I think I am safe in saying that I am not alone in having great concerns about Ian Duncan Smith’s proposals that the unemployed be forced to undertake manual community work to instil the work ethic in them. Or something.
The first and most obvious point is that the overwhelming majority of the unemployed are not jobless by choice. The ConDem government has adopted policies that will throw more than half a million public sector workers onto the dole over the next five years. It is an article of faith with the Tories that if you get rid of public sector jobs, private sector jobs will multiply. What they have not done is present any evidence that this is the case. Indeed, their policies are likely to increase private sector redundancies: in towns where the local authority or the University is the biggest employer, the lay-offs will result in less money being spent on goods and services in those areas, thus less need for private sector staff.
It is thus not a matter of “instilling a work ethic”. The unemployed have a work ethic. They want to work but the Condems are preventing them from doing so. (As an aside, should this behaviour be termed sociopathic or psychopathic?) To counter this thought in the public mind, tabloids like the Daily Mail and the London Evening Standard are already referring to the unemployed as ‘workshy’ and trotting out anecdotes that may or may not be true about whole families of unemployed living in luxury at the tax-payers expense and inviting us to share their outrage.
I am a tax-payer and the only thing that outrages me is the way that certain media outlets behave as government spin-doctors. Even if the stories are true, the press are making the assumption that the extreme examples they have found are representative of the unemployed. This is bad enough but the Government, who one would hope have the true facts at their disposal, go along with this notion. These anecdotes are trotted out as justification for cut-backs that will drive the unemployed into total penury while simultaneously forcing them onto ‘community’ work-schemes as if they were ASBO’d hoodies.
Linked in with this is the cap on housing benefits. In many areas (particularly London), private sector rents are well above the cap. So the unemployed will lose their homes. Rather than address the cause of the high housing benefit payments (unemployment and the excessive rents charged by many landlords – rents which are increasing at a rate well above inflation) the ConDems and their press supporters prefer to trot out anecdotes about massive benefit payments to an unemployed family they have found in Inner London.
The Government proposes raising council rents to something closer to market rents. This will clearly result in not only the unemployed but low paid workers in social housing having difficulty paying their rent and thus an increase in evictions. Council housing is another arena in which the ConDems propose to attack the poor – by introducing an arbitrary 5 year limit on rental contracts. How this is meant to make tenants feel part of their community (surely a pre-requisite to participating in Cameron’s ‘Big Society’?) is not made clear. Rather than find out how many tentants’ incomes rise so that they could afford to move out if they chose as opposed to how many never do so, they prefer to seek out one or two examples of council tenants with well-paid jobs and imply that this is the norm.
Again and again in social policy, we find this government refusing to look at the totality of the evidence but instead basing policy on anecdotes (which means that at best they are cherry-picking evidence and at worst they are making shit up).
Younger voters may wonder whether this attitude results from stupidity or plain evil. Us older voters remember that the Tories adopted exactly the same policies when they were last in power. Given that they must be aware of the consequences of ignoring evidence then, I can only conclude that they are evil.