Some arguments about the UK government's welfare reform programme - They are looking to create a low waged, unskilled, precarious workforce
- 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
8. They are looking to create a low waged, unskilled, precarious workforce
That’s forever incidentally, if they get their way, and not just for young people. And it’s for nearly everyone - middle class professionals and the skilled working class not excluded. This is only in small part a result of globalisation; in greater part it is about automation reducing the need for human labour, skilled labour especially, everywhere in the world (so it isn’t a trend that can be reversed by ‘reshoring’ as the Greens like to imagine). The drive to automation, and simple, tightly specified, repetitive procedures in those areas that cannot be automated, is relentless. From teachers and university lecturers facing replacement with unskilled assistants simply following prescribed textbooks, to train drivers and signallers displaced by automatic train operation, to law firms applying mass production techniques to litigation, capitalism no longer requires our skills and creativity; just that we follow procedures. Even in areas generally assumed to be the preserve of human labour - like the provision of care to other humans - automation strides on in the form of assistive technology. Not the least significant reason for the rise of ATOS was their use of computer based systems to bypass the role of expensive doctors in medical assessments.
They have made substantial progress. As David Renton almost pointed out, it seems likely (official statistics are inadequate to capture this) that something under half of the total population of working age is now in full time, secure, employment: the rest, the majority, being unemployed or otherwise inactive, self-employed, in part time work, or in variously casualised forms of full time employment. And the sustained fall in real earnings since 2010 is now underwritten by the guarantee of a workforce of millions forced into accepting any work available by Jobcentre sanctions.
At the same time they are enmeshing the wages system at every level with state provision and taxation. Fifty years ago the primary, often the only source of income for working class families was the wage packet or salary. They generally didn't pay much, if any, income tax out of this, just national insurance. Today for anyone on or below average wages, for anyone in rented accommodation, for anyone with children or a disability, their financial relationship with the state is likely to be as important - as determinative for their standard of living - as their wage - which is itself set by the state for anyone on or near minimum wage. Income Tax and NICs, Child Benefit, Tax Credits, Housing Benefit, council tax reductions, DLA, free nursery places, prescription charges, TV licences, free school meals, student loan repayments, care charges if a family member is disabled - and so on, and so on. All of which has to be claimed, every detail verified, every change reported.
A central aim of welfare reform is to is to enforce this new White Collar Taylorism. Jobcentres are the Board Schools of the day training people of all ages to submit to meaningless bureaucratic procedures, teaching by rote the infinite virtues of work, and handing out lessons in hunger and penury to any who will not submit. And Universal Credit will seal off all the exits.