Friday, 4 January 2013

Labour's (not a) Job Guarantee

Labour have announced some policy! Unfortunately it is an all too familiar one, once again trying to be Tories with a twist, in this case it's forced labour if you have been on benefits too long.

Now, I want to get one thing out of the way... if the choice was between this "Job Guarantee" and the current system of "Workfare", where people are being forced to perform mostly menial jobs for short periods of time without getting a wage, just to retain their benefits, then I'll take the former over the latter. If the "Job Guarantee" was of a job that then did, actually, guarantee a job after it, I'd be even more supportive.

Unfortunately the whole thing smells rotten.

You see, I have an intrinsic problem with using threats in order to get people in to work. While I will happily accept there is a minority that will prefer to reside on benefits regardless of how profitable or readily available jobs may be, the research done by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation simply doesn't tally with this view being the main one. To sit here and constantly make these "threats" just demoralises those that are already the most vulnerable while perpetuating a myth that those out of work are only doing so because they're lazy and are there by choice.

Frankly, coming from Labour, this is unacceptable. Not surprising, since it's been their stall for years now, but unacceptable still.

Then there is the job. We have no idea what kind of jobs are going to be made...except that it makes sense it'll be an extension of the current workfare scheme. Similar time scales, similar lack of guarantee of a job going forward. The only difference is that you will be afforded the dignity of being paid a "wage", which is no doubt a notional "ethical" sum from the employer that they currently don't pay except in cases of expenses, the benefits they already receive, and a top up from the government to reach the minimum wage.

This is a fairly pathetic excuse for a job guarantee, and one that doesn't work. If these are the same jobs as we're currently forcing people to undertake (and let's remember that Labour aren't exactly saying that they'll be abolishing the current practice of workfare for those unemployed for less than 2 years), then the reality is that this style of trying to find people work is worse than doing nothing. The stats show that the amount of people finding further employment after taking part in these forced work schemes is LESS than if they had just been left on benefits.

Why is this? Well, aside from the further demoralisation that may lead them to be less enthusiastic to subject themselves to the same perceived lack of worth, a common sense view might be that their time is removed from the act of actually finding work and in to doing what is, in most cases, a pathetic excuse for building "skills" and "experience"

So, a temporary job, with minimum wage pay, with no guarantee of one going forward. What happens next to that person unemployed for over 2 years? Perhaps they go back to being unemployed for less than 2 years, reset to zero. This would certainly help keep the figures for long term unemployment at an all time low as we cycle year after year through everyone to bring them back to "1 month unemployed" and so on.

But with no jobs for people to actually do, what's the point? Isn't this just a cruel joke of a scheme. In a world where most people that are claiming benefits are doing so because there isn't the right job for them to go in to, what kind of games is Labour really playing by saying "We can create jobs, but only for a little bit". Isn't this just increasing a cycle of dependency on the state, rather than breaking it?

Now, if this was voluntary temporary work created for those that find themselves genuinely between jobs, the types of families where having to go down to benefits for months rather than have a low paid job to "tick-along" in while they try to get back on their feet quickly, I'd be celebrating it. As it is, there is no guarantee this work is going to be beneficial for those taking part because it is not in any form targeted.

Think about that possibility... a government that tries to keep people's dignity, to make active attempts to slow the kind of rapid descent in to poverty that can ruin families, and to make the road less bumpy, all without coercion! I know, a pipe dream at best!

If the government can create jobs, they should be using them more wisely. However, as with workfare, we have to be careful what we are "creating". One major criticism of current forced work schemes is that people are doing work that someone else could be employed to do, and there is evidence that people have lost out on over-time and holiday pay that they would usually rely on as companies have been able to spend no money on forcing benefit claimants to cover those most unsociable hours instead!

If the act of creating jobs is just depriving others of jobs, then we are not creating a solution, we are just massaging unemployment figures.

And if these jobs are only temporary, then the whole situation isn't sustainable. The very fact that we can't simply get jobs for those who are in long term unemployment who want to work (which is most of them, remember) shows exactly WHY THERE IS LONG TERM UNEMPLOYMENT! It's perverse that we should degrade those that are long term unemployed with a situation that simultaneously proves that they are justified in claiming benefits while vilifying them for being in that situation. Yet this is what Labour is going to choose to continue to do if they win power.

This is why, while I can support the idea of being at least civil in giving people a wage for doing work, I can support this "(not a) Job Guarantee" no more than I can Workfare.