Sunday, 7 November 2010

Where is Wilberforce?

I am not normally given to posting at this time on a Sunday night - after all, life is far too short - but I have just listened to the News (ITV tonight, after Downton Abbey). 

Apart from Her Madge signing up to Facebook (where I am unable to Poke her, or be her friend) we heard about the plans that the Blessed Coalition have for the "Very Unemployed":


The plan is this, astounded reader: you take one "Very Unemployed" person, tell him to work for nothing and if he refuses, take his meagre benefits away. The work is not in I.T. nor is it selling stocks and shares. No, if you are "Very Unemployed", you will (in all but name) be blackmailed into rolling up and doing the sort sort of work that convicted criminals are called to do when paying their dues to The Big Society for their petty misdeameanours - moving autumn leaves around; gathering litter - that kind of stuff. 

So, the message that the Blessed Coalition are offering to the country (in the voice of none other than Big Willy Haig - wit' Yoikshuh accent to make it seem somehow acceptable to tut'Woiking Classes) is this:

 - The "Very Unemployed" are lazy and need to be made un-lazy (they are a free labour force too)
 - They can be treated the same as the criminals, for that is how society views them, honest!
 - We have the buggers over a barrel because they depend on their meagre benefit for their Ciggies and Satellite dishes - and the rest of us have to work for ours - how dare they, how very dare they?
 - As they are "Very Unemployed" they are open to be demeaned because they are, of course, some kind of filthy underclass who are working our noble system and milking it.
 - Big Society will support us because they are all slightly jealous of the 'lay-in and lunch lifestyle' of the "Very Unemployed" [and we need a few vote catchers 'cos it isn't going so well for us, if we are honest]

Shame, shame and double shame!

Thank God for the Archbishop of Canterbury - who jumped on this like a beardy panther on a Bongo, and exposed this for the nonsense that it seems at face-value to be. The fact is, that society and certain governments think that the unemployed have an easy ride. Many unemployed people would love to work (and of course, as with everything, there are notable exceptions) but have become unemployable through de-skilling, are too old to take to the tools or labour, have an addiction that has removed control from them, are possibly ill in some cases, or have been cast aside by a nation who regard them as lower than a snake's belly - among a long list of  other reasons. So many seem to think them lazy and selfish - though I urge anyone to try an live on benefits and see if they would truly choose that subsistance life and regard themselves as winners, as a bit canny and clever, as having got one over old Tommy Tax-Payer. Those who I know who are long-term unemployed have lost hope. If the high point of their existence is Jeremy Kyle and hours of boredom and nothing to look forward to except the next Giro, then they deserve our support in so many ways, not our turned-up noses and certainly not an all-but-threat of modern-day slavery.

Where is Mr Wilberforce when you need him?


  1. So, people who would like to work are going to be given work to do, and in return they are going to be paid (effectively, in that they will retain benefits that they otherwise would lose).

    I am struggling to see the problem. I suspect this is a bit pointless - in that it won't make a great deal of real difference to people's prospects. But I hardly think Wilberforce would campaign against people working in return for pay.

    Work is not a degrading activity, and surely one of the greatest indignities of the long-term unemployed is one's apparent uselessness, if the factors of age, illness and de-skilling that you identify work their destructive way. I regard the giving of useful work as precisely the support we ought to be offering. And the kind of work you suggest is genuinely useful, improving the environment for the whole community, even though it may not be worth anyone's while commercially to undertake it: it is certainly not work to be sneered at.

    Mr Crawley thought that his new valet's work was degrading, but Lord G. thought that even a valet's occupation gave a man a purpose in life.

  2. Nice one! Good to see the other side put so clearly and succinctly for once (and by one of the perceived "establishment")

    Perhaps the one hope = in the absence of a Willberforce = is that given enough rope the coalition will do the decent thing!

  3. Hi Sui - thanks for stopping by! I couldn't agree with you more, but I think perhaps I ought to reinforce what I have said here ...

    They already recieve their benefits. Many have tried for years to find work (this I know to be true for many whom I know personally). They will be required to work or lose those benefits that they already hold. They won't be paid to work, just unpaid not to - a matter upon which they may have little choice.

    Now - if they are to be given work in anything (and believe me, I have earned a living litter picking so speak from some experience) and are to be considered worthy of the work, then pay them a living wage, employ them and give them their rights, give them their dignity and pride - not just say "you know that thing we already give you as part of your civil right in Britain? Well, it is on the end of a piece of string now and you will have to chase it".

    In short - they are being identified and labelled poorly, being given new conditions that innately percieve them in the ways I described in my post.

  4. David, I suspect we're not going to agree on this one. I think in part we are starting from different theoretical assumptions. For example, I don't see "civil right" playing any part here. I think the state owes a duty to the community (including the charitable duty of caring for the poor), and we also owe a duty to the state. That duty is usually commuted to our paying our taxes, but can (by conscription in wartime, for example) take a personal form.

    But on a more practical level - the one that matters most of the time - I simply think this is a genuine benefit to those unemployed who have not been able to find work. Long-term unemployment is a problem for two reasons: lack of income, firstly; but also lack of work, which is an evil in itself. Welfare has traditionally been better at solving the first problem (at least to a minimum extent) than the second.

    I'm not convinced that this policy is wise, because I worry about the effects on real job creation. But I think it is a good thing for those in the programme.

    As to the Archbishop, I fear that he will be seen to be a fool in this matter (and rightly). That does us no good.

    Thank you again for your blog, by the way - and for allowing me the comment space to put my contrary views!

  5. Thanks Sui - and you are welcome here anytime with any views you have!

    Again, I find myself agreeing with you on much. Yes, I can see the advantages for the unemployed in giving them a purpose through work - work is, as you infer, its own reward.

    I think that what I worry about most is the societal perception that the long-term unemployed are there by wilfull choice, and it is this view that I challenge. Lack of jobs that these people can do (or lack of training so that they can) is the problem. Using them as an unpaid labour force (to do the jobs most people wouldn't) brings with it implicit judgements - and it is those that top my list of worries.

  6. The long-term unemployed that I know are most emphatically not there by wilful choice. One is there because, having had 24 epiletic fits to unconsciousness this year alone (resulting from being gay-bashed twenty years ago) which would make him a liability to any employer, he is barely able to leave the house. He has a sharp mind and would perhaps benefit from some form of work he could do from home, but who's going to bother teaching him how to use a computer? (Me, probably; I keep meaning to get a new power supply for my old laptop and give it to him, but there we are; I've been ill myself since September).

    You can say all you like that it's not people like him who are being targetted by this intiative, but it is. He's not even had a response to his latest "jump through hoops" exercise to allow him to continue receiving Incapacity Benefit, after four months. He's offered to go for a medical, and been told that would be "inappropriate". His anxiety disorder is now far worse than it was, although thankfully his seems to manifest in ringing up the local MP's officers rather than hiding under the blankets, as it would in my case.

    I have spent several years training myself in skills that mean I won't need to work in an office, as I have no control over when I'm well enough to leave the house. Sadly, employers don't recognise work-from-home as a valid option a lot of the time, so I've ended up self-employed (and under-employed, but not on the State's radar).

  7. Sui Juris
    If the work truly is of value to society and not just intended to humiliate people back into a "real job", then why not make these proper jobs, properly paid (at minimum wage or above) rather than simply a condition of continuing to receive what will still be means-tested benefits?

  8. We are governed by liars and thieves and our economy is mismanaged by thieves aka bankers. We allow them to get away with it; it comes as no surprise to see them trampling the poor beneath their feet...



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