This week’s announcement at the Conservative conference that long-term claimants will be forced to work for less than minimum wage shares the same Victorian mentality as all their other raids on the poor. The result of throwing this red meat to the UKIP dog will be damaging and socially divisive, and do nothing but cause more stress-related illness among the unemployed, which is already at epidemic levels if the consumption of tranquillizers and sedatives is any guide. Parading them through the streets in orange suits is not going to help.
It also ignores the truth that there are not now and never have been enough secure jobs for everyone, except in pre-industrial times. It is a ridiculous tail-biting system, but the tories seem happy to apologise for it. So therefore they have to accept the price, that ultimately, the only way to stop the unemployed breaking windows is to keep them comfortable and treat them with a degree of respect.
After all, by reducing competition, everyone not seeking work makes it easier for those who want/need it most. There are plenty in work now who should be grateful for the lack of effort of others. And the last thing employers want is masses of no-hopers and mechanised applications clogging up the recruitment process, which is expensive enough already.
It would help if job centres did more than just process people. The current system merely turns skilled people into untrained Bureacrats. By demanding almost constant Jobsearch, accounted for in triplicate, anyone with any skills at all quickly find that they are wasting through lack of use, making them progressively less marketable, and reducing the chances of a successful application.
In effect, this will tend to homogenise the talents of a generation in a way which the enforced idleness of previous economic depressions didn’t, when the music industry (for one) made work for idle hands to do. The prospects of this benefit-generation producing an Ian Dury or Oasis are thin. And the same goes for other creative sectors of the economy. Blandness (or criminality) will be the cool strategy.
The way out of this spiral of skill-decay would obviously be to provide structured offers of real training. Almost every job on offer now requires some form of training or qualfication, which often costs money. There is no such thing now as unskilled labour, even making the tea on a building site. And while there may be some casual rip-off bar’n’grill-work for teenagers, friends of friends, transients with no responsibilities and other suitably decorative groups, casual vacancies are almost non-existent for most, especially those with families.
But the job centre offers very little training – apart from very basic skills, and lectures about not putting your feet on the desk at an interview. Just mindless nitpicking and red-tape. At present, three applications a week are required to recieve benefit, which is a practical number for those with intermediate-level communication and internet skills – and the equipment and ISP to use them.
From next year, JSA claimants will also have to demonstrate somehow that they have been actively seeking work for 35 hours a week (a reduction to many) and provide evidence via Directgov, one of the lousiest websites in creation according to the JobCentre’s training-supplier of choice. There is no indication how this time will be monitored. Or how much real help will be provided to those without the skills or equipment needed to merely complete the form-filling obstacle-course which will become their lives.
And now this stigmatisation. How it benefits the unemployed to force down the wages of the lowest paid, and make them more frightened and hostile is anyone’s guess. The theory goes that claimants will be ‘giving back’ something for the ‘charity’ they receive. ‘And that this will be good for them’.
Leaving aside the inconvenient fact that many will have contributed throughout their working lives for this ‘charity’, there is another serious issue. They think they can force someone to ‘give’ something? That’s the morality of the mob, surely? ‘Let me be your friend, Don Corleone’.
In a civilised society, not built on slavery, if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth being paid for. It’s why the right to strike is sacrosanct. A right which the banks reserve the right to use, having been on strike for years, refusing to lend money at less than what they regard as a working return.
This is simply good business practice, however disastrous to the economy and people’s lives. It is apparently not ‘blackmail’ or ‘holding the country to ransom’, as it is when train drivers refuse to work for less than they think they’re worth, or under unsafe conditions. A system capable of handling that contradiction is easily capable of punishing the victims of the bankers crimes, not the criminals, as today’s spiteful little edict proves.