So Mr Osborne has made a new pledge today for the long-term unemployed entitled “Help to Work” – the idea is to do “useful work, meals for the elderly, tidy up litter” etc.etc. “No-one will get something for nothing” – an interesting phrase by someone whose own background is as an heir apparent to a Irish baronetcy.
Now there is no doubt that the long-term unemployed are seen by many in this country as scrounging layabouts who all spend their time watching daytime TV on massive flat screen televisions courtesy of the taxes from the rest of us. A caricature? Not for many – it is what they genuinely but falsely believe based mainly on exaggerated newspaper stories.
Being unemployed is a horrible place to be. Your own self-worth takes a massive hit and it is therefore no surprise that many long-term unemployed end up severely depressed by the constant degradation that comes upon them from others. The longer that people are out of work means that it is easier to get into a rut and harder to then get out to work with all the social problems that this brings. And all this for the princely sum of £56.80 a week (current Job Seekers Allowance)
So it is superficially attractive for Mr Osborne to put forward a new plan to address the “something for nothing” culture. But the reality is somewhat different…
2 years is far too long for people to be out of work – as a country, we need everyone to be using their gifts and talents wisely. If we give someone a job, we also give them confidence, some stability in their lives and helps the public purse. Therefore, we should be looking at 1 year or less before intervening more formally.
Now one of the three “options” put forward today has received the least coverage but is pretty positive namely the compulsion in receiving drugs and alcohol support. There are some practicalities that would need sorting around this but the principle is correct in giving people the opportunity to restart their lives and moving away from some of the addictive barriers. If the Government are serious about this option (and I have my doubts) then it must come with extra funds for the support agencies and charities to properly deal with the needs of these people which can be complex and very difficult to overcome.
But sadly the other two “options” are ridiculous. The choice in having a daily sign in at a job centre would be the preferred option for many as long as they live near enough to a job centre to walk there. Wait a few minutes, sign a piece of paper and walk out again. Support for the employee? No chance – jobs centres are already overstretched with a fortnightly sign-in so just imagine what a daily one would be like. Of course, if you need a bus or public transport (even if you can access which you can’t in rural areas) then this is no option as your £56 benefit will get eaten up just getting to the job centre every day.
And the same can be said for the real Tory headline – 30 hrs of community work/forced labour with 10 hours of “job-related activity”. This works out less than £1.50 a hour, an equivalent rate far below the levels of the national minimum wage with again the problems of people being able to get to it. Will claimants get a travel card to get to their “community service?” There is also the whole issue of supervision costs and arrangements for this unpaid work, what happens with sickness etc. The management costs for such projects is likely to be pretty significant here and would certainly eat into any “savings” that might arise. It’s not clear yet how or even whether this has been thought through or is just intended as political rhetoric thrown out as red-meat to the die-hard Tory conference supporters.
This option would be more sensible if people were given national minimum wage at least for the 30 hours they work and keep a proportion of their current benefits for the 10 hrs “job-related” time. In that way, they are not treated as a punishment (as per those who are given community service in court) and there is still an incentive to get another job which pays at least a living wage. It would also mean that people get more than on unemployment benefits so the incentive remains.
Everyone agrees that long term unemployment is a situation that suits no-one and especially the individuals themselves. These proposals will only affect 2% of those looking for work but seem to be more aimed at the court of public opinion than a genuine effort to understand and address the different problems that arise.