Tag Archives: dole

Gissa Job…

The government is announcing their grand vision for the welfare state today – the plans to encourage people back into work and to create more punitive disincentives for those who try living a life on benefits.

Some of the measures make sense, the idea of a universal benefit to simplify the myriad of benefits, the principle of tapering benefits off slowly rather than just stopping everything the moment a claimant gets a job. Some of these ideas make sense and despite his hard-right-Rottweiler image, Iain Duncan Smith has spent many years thinking about these issues – after he left the Tory leader job he set up The Centre for Social Justice think tank, focused entirely on issues such as benefit reform.

But one of the key principles is troublesome. If a claimant refuses to take a job that is offered to them then their benefit gets stopped. On the surface it makes sense – if a job is out there and a person on benefits is available to do it then they should lose their benefits if they refuse the job. Fair enough. But how does that work in practice? Who makes the final decision on whether a job is too far from the claimant’s home, or the job is not suited to the person, or the job is not paying the going rate?

I’m not a natural Tory supporter at all, but I can see that IDS is trying to reform the system into one that encourages work, rather than facilitating a life lived on benefits – and that’s naturally a good thing. But there are some worrying aspects to this reform that don’t take into account the issues of structural unemployment and jobs being out there, but nowhere near the people who need them.

IDS keeps repeating that over 1m new jobs went through the job centre last month – there are new jobs being created. But the majority of them are low-paid minimum wage and so only people local to the job would take those… you can’t commute long distance to a minimum wage job. And this naturally suits migrant workers. There is a free movement of labour throughout the EU, so a person coming from another country to the UK will naturally locate themselves close to the work.

This does not mean that migration is the problem, but many locals competing with migrants will complain that foreigners are taking all the jobs. It’s not really the case – it’s just that the migrants are prepared to go and live next to the jobs. IDS and the government really need to explore this issue of the friction between where new jobs are being created and where people live.

If I live in Preston and there is a job at Burger King in Manchester, would I lose my benefits by refusing to take it, even if a 40-mile journey to work might eat up most of those new earnings? This new policy might need a rethink.

Who Moved My Job?

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Foreigners get 77% of new jobs

The Daily Express screamed on the front page today that 77% of jobs in the UK are going to foreigners. It’s a rather typical scare story and I’ve already heard of people waving the paper around today and shouting that all those pesky foreigners are coming to steal our jobs.

But the situation is far more subtle and complex. Even thinking about this for just a few minutes typing this blog I can surmise:

  • We live in the European Union. There is a free movement of labour within the union, meaning we as British people can freely go and live and work in other EU member nations. There are more Brits overseas in the other 26 member states (working, or with family, or retired) than this ‘flood’ of immigrants coming to the UK. So, if the UK decided to suddenly pull up the drawbridge, then what do you think would happen to all those pensioners in Spain or Brits working in France and Germany?
  • Many of the Europeans coming to the UK for work are extremely mobile, which works in their favour. Not many Brits living in Newcastle, and suffering a life on benefits, would jump at the chance of a job in Bristol, or Reading, or even London, if they were only slightly better off. We are not a very mobile society in the UK and this creates structural unemployment where hundreds of thousands of jobs are available, but nobody locally wants to take them.
  • And, in that kind of environment what do you expect will happen? Britain does have a lot of employment available, but it’s not always where people want to work or live. That’s not a problem for someone coming in from overseas who can arrange their accommodation close to their work.

But let’s be clear, these non-British Europeans are not coming in and ‘stealing’ jobs. I’m sure most businesses advertising jobs would be only too delighted to be hiring and supporting local people. But what do the companies do when no locals respond to the job adverts? Go bust because they have no staff? Of course they take the search further afield, and if Brits are not prepared to move 50 miles for a job, then it’s easy to find others within Europe who are happy to work hard, pay their taxes, and add something to the community they move into.

This is not so much a story of foreigners stealing jobs, it’s a story of British people failing to adapt to the international nature of work in the twenty-first century and the DWP not offering enough incentives for those already on benefits to cast the net a bit wider when seeking work.

Election reaction

On yer bike scroungers! Council tenants to get the boot…

The new Work secretary, Iain Duncan-Smith, has caused outrage by suggesting that the unemployed should move in search of work, directing his focus mainly at council tenants who occupy local authority property, claim benefits, and generally don’t do a lot – it’s reminiscent of former Tory minister Norman (now Lord) Tebbit and his famous ‘my old man got on his bike’ speech.

Tebbit is often misquoted, he actually said: “I grew up in the ’30s with an unemployed father. He didn’t riot. He got on his bike and looked for work, and he kept looking ’til he found it.” He was responding to a statement that unemployment naturally leads to riots.

Iain Duncan-Smith is the protégé of Lord Tebbit and that’s easy to see with these new plans about migration. When Tebbit left the Commons for the Lords, Duncan-Smith replacing him as MP, he is alleged to have said: “If you think I’m right-wing, you should meet this guy.”

But there is an issue of structural unemployment in the UK. Jobs are out there, but often the long-term unemployed are not living in locations where suitable jobs are available. What are the thousands of skilled workers  at the former Corus steel plant in Teesside going to do now – work in McDonald’s or deliver newspapers? Hardly fulfilling, rewarding, or exploiting the skills available.

There is already a system that allows people to swap their council home with tenants in another location, though why people in an area full of work might want to move someplace where there is none is beyond me. The unsettling thing about what the government is now proposing is that they want the power to force people to move in search of work.

That’s not like the romantic dream of the American migrant worker. It’s compulsion. And though I am all for the government trying to help people into work, I don’t think that charging up behind vulnerable people with a big stick is a very strategic appeoach.

Everyone wants to get rid of dole scroungers and the long-term sick claiming incapacity benefit and spending it in the pub – that’s a given – but this problem needs more thought than clunking Conservative proposals to force council tenants out of their home. What about their family and support networks? How will a single parent arrange child care in a new city, because they will need it if they are heading out to work fulltime?

I think the more intelligent response to this issue of work distribution would be to approach it with short, medium, and long-term proposals. In the short term, make it attractive for companies to create jobs away from the Southeast – offer tax incentives and grants to make it really worthwhile. Then for the longer term, the only thing that can make the people more mobile and more likely to find work in future is their education and skills. Give them training and let them find new work, don’t kick them out of home because it makes for a good headline on cutting costs.

Wasn’t there that story in the Bible about teaching a man to fish…?

Labour struggling