Thinker's Corner

The Dead Citizens' Charter (National Funerals College publication, £5 from the NFC, 3 Priory Road, Bristol BS8 1TX, tel: 0117 928 9024). Death may be the last taboo, but this call for action on behalf of the deceased and bereaved shows that even the funeral industry was not immune to the effects of the 1980s public management reforms. Government action, rather than self-regulation, is demanded to counter the greed and aggressive selling techniques of funeral directors; sales of public crematoria to the private sector are opposed as undemocratic, while concerns are raised about the lack of choice for the newly bereaved caused by the growth of local monopolies and a reduction in funeral benefits. In many respects the problems and solutions identified here mirror those of other public-sector fields ten years ago. The delay in discussing them says much for our attitude to death. The charter is welcome for its lack of reticence.

Local Responses to Long-Term Unemployment (Joseph Rowntree Foundation publication, £12.95 from York Publishing Services, 64 Hallfield Rd, Layerthorpe, York YO31 7ZX, tel: 01904 430033). This review of recent findings by the policy research unit at Leeds Metropolitan University criticises the "national" approach to cutting long-term unemployment. It advocates a decentralised policy to produce the flexibility necessary to tackle the problem. A few myths are dispelled: jobs do not trickle down to the long-term unemployed in times of prosperity, but more research is required before effective remedies can be applied. In arguing for partnerships, pro-active programmes and targeting, the study makes valid points, but co-ordinated approaches at local level have proved difficult to produce in the past, and Labour's proposals for regional government do not suggest a brighter future. The fragile global economy may also undermine this useful contribution.

This article first appeared in the 04 December 1998 issue of the New Statesman, Just get out and have fun!