(UK) New Labour’s latest ‘hard talking’ Work & Pensions secretary James Purnell has wheeled out another half-baked government welfare reform plan. It is another attempt to make it appear that governments can actually reduce benefit claims and assuage business and taxpayers’ concerns.
In the white paper (available to read here ) there is a lot of talk about ‘not leaving people behind’ and how work ‘enriches your life’. When the 200 page paper is actually broken down to the bare facts, it’s clear to see that it rests on a number of assumptions—all of them confused and some utterly false.
The first is the assumption that the government can actually move three-quarters of benefit claimants into useful, decently paying jobs. The second is that they can get the private sector to successfully help them do this. Thirdly, the government is being persistent with the claim that urging people to work is actually possible in a major economic downturn; something that simply contradicts common sense. Lastly, the government, and its allied cronies, can’t seem to get it into their heads that many people would choose a job over the benefit pittances, but that no-one with even an ounce of sense would work 10 hour days only to end up more-or-less in the same financial position. That is a reality for many low-income individuals and families in Britain, despite all the financial top-ups government offers (or in some cases doesn’t offer).
All through the long Conservative government of the 1980s there were training schemes: Back To Work, Work-Wise, and a dozen other similar plans only differing in name. They all fail because they never address the central problems: work is insecure, many jobs are poorly paid, virtually no-one is trained for a particular job or work area. The Thatcher government left schools under-funded as it went on its privatisation spree and as a result the numbers of unemployables into the workforce has remained as steady as ever. A large amount of the work that is available, and let’s be honest there is a lot of work in such a massive economy, is fragmented; broken up into temporary, part-time, private agency shift-work or offered on tiny three- to six-month contracts. Both the Thatcher government and the current Labour government have done little to prevent work from becoming anything more than a very difficult, one-sided battle to put food on the table.
The government will try to be ‘fair’, which means that in its attempt to clamp down on the ever-present ‘scroungers’, it will put into force measures that will hinder and hurt genuine claimants. Not simply disabled claimants, but the hundreds of thousands of people: the untrained, the less-employable, older workers who face age discrimination; the mentally ill. Previously there was a lot of quacking about how children suffer when both parents work, now the government thinks it’s a great idea to pack these mothers off into work as soon as possible (this must be because they are single; it’s okay to be a 1950s housewife if your husband works as a stockbroker in the city).
Perhaps the most foolhardy part of Purnell’s scheme is the continued flirtation with the private sector. New Labour still behaves like a love-struck teenager when the ‘private-sector’ is mentioned. Not happy that they have run the train service into the ground and siphoned-off millions from the NHS, the Blairites are still convinced that the private sector offers money-saving quality and efficiency, which doesn’t tally with the fact that they keep on shovelling tax-payers’ money into private-sector pockets to try and achieve it, with little to show for it. There is no evidence at all that private advisors have any more of a proven success rate of getting people into work. Their concerns are profit and targets, so they shunt people off into short-term dead-end jobs and keep the rest on their training schemes subsidised by tax payers. All their ‘successes’ are people who are already employable and who do most of the job-hunting work themselves. Of course the private welfare sector claims these successes as their own. Purnell is happy to crow about how many leave the benefits system after only a few weeks or months, however he doesn’t say whether it is because they found work or got tired of being treated like a worthless scrounger.
The problem of “scroungers” is not just a Daily Mail fantasy, it actually extends to right-wing Daily Mail readers who happily claim child tax credits and other benefit top-ups whilst they write their venomous letters to the newspaper about a scrounging underclass. There are scroungers from everywhere, some worse than others, but they are all unified and informed by the same kind of greed-based, consumption-obsessive economy we live under. Labour’s answer is to privatise the poor, through work and welfare policies drawn up by people who are privileged or who have never done a stroke of useful work in their lives. Little wonder that it has been cheered on by the Tories, it is tory policy.