The Green Paper, No-One is Written Off: Reforming Welfare to Reward Responsibility was published in July. Its aim is to ensure everyone has to “fulfil their responsibilities to prepare for, look for, and take up work.”
By changing the system it plans to get more than a million on Incapacity Benefit into employment in the coming years, help 300,000 lone parents get jobs and to have a million older workers more. Future employment levels are targeted at 80% of the working-age population.
In the Foreword the Prime Minister says, “in a globalised world, we simply cannot afford the high price of large numbers of people on benefits.” With these reforms we will have a “world class benefit system” that “maximises the number of people in employment.” To this end there will be “tough” claims on those receiving money.
These include rigorous assessments of basic capacities for the disabled, screening designed to enforce strict eligibility criteria. Many will then go onto “pathways into work”, to insert them to employment. This approach goes by the board. There are harder sanctions for all claimants not meeting the rules. The state will “explore giving advisers the power to require full-time activity of claimants at any stage of their claim if they believe it would be of benefit”. This will include compulsory assignments, notably full-time community work (at Dole pay) for the long-term jobless.
Brendan Barber, General Secretary of the TUC, immediately criticised the nerve centre of these policies. Reports that those out of work for six months will have to clean the streets, and those workless for more than two years engage in full time “volunteering”, he stated, “No to ‘no pay” (18th of July). Trade Unions are particularly concerned about a “right to bid”, open to companies and voluntary bodies, to run any part of the Employment Service – way beyond existing public-private “partnerships” (principally training and work placements under the New Deal scheme).
By contrast these proposals, including stricter regulations for those on Invalidity Benefit, enforced rehabilitation of substance abusers, and making single parents with older children seek employment, were welcomed by the Conservative Party (belying their recent criticisms of the Nanny State). Including the Guardian and the Independent. They agree with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, James Purnell that this will give “people the incentive to do the right thing.” It offers “opportunity” for all. A fairer, more prosperous Britain will be built. No doubt with sparklingly clean pavements.
These changes are inspired by Merchant Banker David Freud’s 2007 Report (which promoted “private sector incentives” in welfare delivery). They raise many problems.
It is ambitious, to say the least, to aim for 80% employment when economic conditions suggest a downturn. More serious are the basic premises of the Green Paper. The difficulties of those on Invalidity Benefit would require a much longer article, but one major concern is that those with “invisible” mental problems, difficult sometimes to prove, may not be recognised by zealous advisers. More generally, Purnell’s approach is that the state claims rights over people to conform to its views on how they should live. They are to be treated as objects to be redeemed and become better people by labour. In this fashion the unemployed are to be placed in a situation of greater dependency on the good will of their advisers and the private welfare businesses and voluntary associations that take charge of them.
This document is said to be a Consultation and comments are welcome. This year the Trades Councils’ national Annual General Meeting (the lay side of the TUC) passed a detailed resolution on Welfare Reform. It opposed workfare – demanding a decent wage for what is in effect full-time employment. It noted problems with existing welfare-to-work schemes: the lack of rights for those forced on them, the poor quality of training (usually below recognised qualification levels), low rates of benefit, and the potential for bullying and victimisation. Experience of the existing New Deal (for those on JSA) illustrates this. There are numerous cases of people threatened with being “exited” from benefits by advisers, dubious private companies profiting from the programme, and, exploitation by employers of those on “placements” under the scheme. Some New Dealers spend months sat full-time in front of computer screebs “job searching”. In the guise of voluntary bodies, faith organisations such as the YMCA, are involved, in contempt of the rights of non-believers and non-Christians. This is not a “world class” way to employment. It is a very profitable business for those parking the out-of-work in what some describe as “open prisons”. Research suggests that those who find work would often have done so anyway. One wonders if such views will be consulted?
The Green Paper operates with principles similar to the 19th century Poor Laws. This was based on the criterion of “least eligibility“ – making life worse in the Workhouse than any possible employment. Such will be the case for those sweeping the roads or other similar tasks for a benefit of just over £60 a week. Activities, it should be noted (and the unemployed do), carried out now by those convicted of crimes by the Courts. Some skills upgrade to meet the challenge of the globalised world! Some globalised world.
Taken from Chartist Magazine, September/October 2008.