Friday, 2 May 2014

Punishing the unemployed



Announced last week (April 28), the Tory-led UK Government’s new ‘Help to Work’ scheme is nothing more than yet another attack on the unemployed.

An adaptation to the existing ‘Work Programme’, the new element will see people either forced to work for no pay or attend a Jobcentre every day.

The Work Programme is already a multi-billion pound failure.  The scheme sees private companies paid by the UK Government – using our money, of course – with the supposed aim of getting the long-term unemployed into work.  Known as ‘providers’, the companies consist of the usual suspects – A4E, Ingeus, Serco, Working Links, ESG (Employment & Support Group) – some of which, in addition to cashing-in on contracts to carry out work formerly done in the public sector by civil servants, are registered donors to the Conservative Party.

Official government figures show that only around 3% of the 1.5million people referred to the Work Programme by the Department for Work and Pensions (through Jobcentres) actually secure full-time, sustainable employment.  This prompted even the Tory-loyal Daily Telegraph to point out that many more unemployed people find work with no ‘help’ from the scheme.

Anyone who refuses to take part in the Work Programme (and its new Help to Work extension) faces being ‘sanctioned’.  A sanction can last for up to 3 years and means all income is instantly stopped, leaving people destitute.

It’s worth noting that the idea of ‘workfare’ (unemployed people being forced to work for no pay) was introduced by the last UK Labour Government, and that in 2009 (Labour’s last full year in power) 139,000 Jobseekers were sanctioned. 

The idea was gleefully taken up by the current Tory-Lib Dem UK Government (elected in 2010), and by 2011 the number of unemployed people sanctioned had more than tripled to 508,000.  We now have a situation where 70,000 people per month are being sanctioned and are instantly plunged into a living nightmare where all benefits are stopped.  This means no money for food or to pay rent and other bills.  Sanctions are applied by the Department for Work and Pensions through Jobcentres, but are often the result of recommendations from the private companies operating the Work Programme. 

In March of this year, the Guardian newspaper reported that five-times as many unemployed people on the Work Programme had been sanctioned as had been found long-term work.

Many charities and private companies have withdrawn from the Work Programme after receiving bad publicity from having been exposed as profiting from allowing people to be placed with them and forced to work full-time hours for no pay.

Unemployed people ‘placed’ with employers as part of the Work Programme receive only their Jobseeekers Allowance (£71.00 per week for a single person over 25) plus any other ‘welfare’ entitlements, such as Housing Benefit.  In other words, they receive no additional financial benefit from their forced labour.  However, Mr Glen Watson, Director General of the UK Government’s Office for National Statistics, recently confirmed that, “Those participants whose activity comprises any form of work, work experience or work-related training are classified as in employment. This is regardless of whether the individual is paid or not.”

So that is one way of artificially lowering the unemployment rate.  Another is to transfer people from unemployment benefit to the Self-Employment Allowance, which is paid for six-months, supposedly to help the unemployed into self-employment.  In reality, many people simply sign-on again after the Self-Employment Allowance runs out - but for the period it lasts, they are officially no longer unemployed and, in fact, are part of the soaring number of self-employed entrepreneurs that Tory Prime Minister David Cameron has recently been claiming as a success story for his government.

The Work Programme and the new Help to Work scheme are simply ways of punishing the unemployed for their predicament.  It is a revisiting of the Thatcherite philosophy that the unemployed are responsible for their unemployment, when, in fact, the situation has been created by the failed economic policies of successive UK Governments (including light-touch regulation of banks and financial institutions in the City of London).  

Demonising the unemployed as an undeserving underclass is part of the ‘divide and rule’ strategy where the working class who are in employment are told they should look on those who are out of work as skivers free-loading off the taxes of others.  Attacking the poor, the sick and vulnerable, while rewarding their rich friends in the private sector is what Tories always do.  The fact that the current ‘workfare’ regime was started under the Labour Party simply shows how much of a Tory clone that party has become.

No-one who knows anything about the operation of Jobcentres could have dreamed-up the idea that the long-term unemployed should be forced to attend every day.  Staff in Jobcentres are already struggling to cope with the numbers of people who sign-on every two-weeks (some are on weekly signings).  It would be physically impossible to accommodate every long-term unemployed person, every day of the working week.  What would they be expected to do while they were in attendance at the Jobcentre?  Staff don’t have the time to sit with them and assist in job-searches, most of which can already be done online from home anyway.

Then there is the matter of an unemployed person having to travel to the Jobcentre every day.  People from as far away as Beith and Largs already have to travel to the Saltcoats Jobcentre to sign-on.  How are they expected to travel that distance every day on an income solely derived from poverty-level benefits?

The Work Programme and Help to Work are not about getting people into employment – if there were real jobs out there people would be working.  The schemes are nothing more than ways of punishing the poor, of making people’s lives so difficult that they are willing to work for no pay rather than be forced even lower into total destitution.  Every person on a Work Programme placement, working but receiving no pay, is doing a job that should come with a living wage.  The only people benefiting from this arrangement are the profit-hungry private companies who are willing to exploit the unemployed through a UK Government scheme that essentially legalises modern day slavery.  What else would you call a system where people are forced to work for no pay?

The British Unionist political parties all support the idea of ‘workfare’ – Labour still talks of a ‘something for nothing culture’ every bit as much as the Tories and Liberal Democrats.  The British parties stigmatise the unemployed as a drain on society, rather than as the victims of an economic and political system that has failed and abandoned them while pandering to the interests of an already wealthy elite.

With the full powers that only come with independence, we in Scotland can radically transform our society, breaking free from the UK consensus that condemns so many people to a life of harsh struggle.  With independence, we can and must build a better, fairer Scotland where we restore hope and opportunity to every one of our fellow citizens.

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