Some arguments about the UK government's welfare reform programme - They are not interested in getting people into work...
- Category: Analysis
- Published on Tuesday, 21 October 2014
- Written by Richard Atkinson
- Some arguments about the UK government's welfare reform programme
- 1. They are not trying (very hard) to reduce welfare expenditure
- 2. They do not want, at all, to reduce welfare dependency
- 3. They are not interested in getting people into work...
- 4. ... because they don't know what to do with people when they are working
- 5. They are not, exactly, aiming to abolish the welfare state
- 6. … not least because the present welfare state is their own, neoliberal, creation
- 7. They are converting the DWP into a punitive arm of the state
- 8. They are looking to create a low waged, unskilled, precarious workforce
- 9. They are enforcing a patriarchal discipline on women and families by means testing
- 10. They are winning ...
- 11. ... and Universal Credit will seal their victory for a generation
- 12. They have a problem with pensioners, which they have yet to sort out
- 13. Labour are as deeply committed to these aims as the Tories
- 14. Why it’s Welfare, not Social Security
- 15. Why it’s back to 1601 not 1834
- 16. No-one asked for welfare
- 17. Against welfare: for class independence
- ADDENDUM - On proposals for an Unconditional Basic Income.
- All Pages
3. They are not interested in getting people into work ...
They do not give a shit whether people get work or not. Unemployment is a forgotten problem, reclassified as a welfare issue. In the 1980’s, frightened by the 1981 riots, Thatcher’s government introduced genuine job creation schemes like the Community Programme - proper paid jobs, if temporary (I got one). No-one so much as mentions the possibility of job creation schemes now. The Coalition’s flagship scheme for driving people into work, the Work Programme is a proven failure, performing no better than claimants would have done unaided. And for all the efforts of ATOS to drive sick and disabled people off benefit the total numbers of people claiming ESA has hardly reduced - people are cycling on and off ESA and JSA, at reduced levels, rather than getting jobs. The theory underlying these programmes - that unemployment is a ‘supply-side’ problem, caused by over generous benefits - has been comprehensively discredited (it was only ever a vacuous gesture towards a theory in the first place).
Even when Osborne claims to be targeting ‘full employment’ this is a threat not a concession, given the nature of the employment his policies are producing. Insecure, low paid employment is the very best on offer for most of us. No pay at all is the offer for people on community work placements and is the effective outcome for many notionally self employed people who set up unviable businesses to escape the Jobcentre by claiming tax credits. Add no effective rights at work - because nominal rights have become impossible for most people to enforce since the introduction of fees for Employment Tribunal cases in July 2013 - and the punitive nature of much employment becomes clear.
In fact though, Osborne’s claim is not entirely empty. They do not have any plans for full employment but they do have a scheme to abolish unemployment. Universal Credit, if it is ever fully implemented, will end the separate categorisation of unemployed people claiming Jobseekers Allowance and replace it with a single population of people in low paid or casualised work, unemployed people, people with illnesses and disabilities, single parents, all claiming the same benefit and distinguished only by their ‘conditionality levels’ - the rules they have to satisfy to get benefit. The ‘claimant count’ figure for unemployment will be no more.
None of this is of any concern to the government. The Work Programme works for them because it has opened up more state revenue to the extraction of value by private capital and because it enforces the ideology of ‘work’, rather than increasing the amount of actual work. People may not have been driven off benefit in great number but they have been terrorised, their income cut drastically and their worth - everyone’s worth - redefined as their willingness to be exploited. Which is, more or less, what they wanted.