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Friday, 12 November 2010

A tale of Work and Welfare

The IDS and Coalition proposals to force those on long term benefits to work at less than the minimum wage or lose their benefits seem rather peculiar. The stated aim, expressed with the usual patrician charm, is that it would be good for these people to get back into the habit of a real job.

Except of course, that is not what this program does. A pound an hour does not teach the lesson that work pays, and a four week placement does not exactly encourage the idea of a stable job. £8 a day won’t cover travel costs in most of this country, which means the lesson taught is exactly the one the coalition claims it is trying to break: you’d be better off staying at home.

Then there is the issue of the work involved. I happen to think that those who sweep the streets, mow park lawns and keep pavements clean do a vital and often thankless task. Their efforts make our cities, where almost all of us live and work, just that bit nicer, cleaner and greener. If this work needs to be done, and it does, why don’t we hire people to do it, and pay them a wage that reflects the importance and dignity of their work? It can’t be an issue of skill, as we’re making random unemployed people do it anyway.

That of course would cost money, but it would also go against the ideology that is behind this action. The plan to lower unemployment would then be, in essence, to engage the unemployed in public works, a policy far too Keynesian for the coalition. On a less intellectual and more guttural note, it would not satisfy that sadistic streak one always suspects is in some of them, to see the poor lined up in orange jump suits to do their community service for the sin of poverty.

For this approach cannot, on the face of it, save any money. Indeed, the only way it does so is if councils use this coerced workforce to do jobs they would otherwise have to pay their own employees or local contractors to do. And if councils can do that, then they will simply sack those employees, and not place those orders with the private sector, who will in turn end up on the dole. The only way this scheme saves money therefore is by in effect replacing one lot of council employees paid £5.93 an hour to do a job, with another lot doing the same work for £1 an hour, and who have no recourse.

Forced to work for the state for a pittance. Seems Dave did find something he liked in China.

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