It is a common belief that unemployed people are mostly scroungers who need a kick up the backside to get them working. People believe that others choose not to work because benefits are luxurious. I argue not just that is wrong, but also that the reasons for not finding work are irrelevant.
There simply aren’t enough jobs for everyone. Although there are about 868 thousand people claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance and approximately 700 thousand advertised vacancies, those figures do not tell the whole story. The job vacancies that remain unfilled are for the most part not available to the people who are looking for work, because employers consider most remaining unemployed people to be undesirable as employees. Maybe that is because of their lack of qualifications, or gaps in their CV, their perceived attitude to authority, or simply the way they look. Many vacancies are filled by people who are leaving another job and are never open to unemployed people.
In some areas there are hundreds or even thousands of applicants for each job. The real availability of jobs for the average jobseeker is revealed in news stories like these:
- More than 1,700 people apply for just EIGHT jobs at Costa Coffee shop
- Hundreds apply for jobs at new supermarket in Southampton
- Hundreds apply for just SIX new jobs at retail store
- Hundreds apply for a job at Leek’s Premier Inn
- Hundreds apply for police community support officer job
- Hundreds apply for just 50 jobs at new Wolverhampton KFC
- Hundreds apply for jobs at Waitrose in Sherborne
- New aquarium gets hundreds of job applications
Society is focussed on working for employers. It is unlikely that going self-employed or starting a business will be successful, and it is even harder under Universal Credit where a self-employed person is assumed to be earning at least minimum wage.
It is no longer feasible to survive by building your own house and growing your own food on your own land. Back in the distant past there was work for everyone, just because keeping people supplied with food and shelter was so intensive. It used to be possible to remove yourself from society to build your own house and grow your own food but that isn’t true anymore. There is no land available to farm without paying for it, no way to be self sufficient without having taxes demanded of you. Even the smallest interaction with the rest of society requires money. There is no choice but to accept employment working for someone else or find a niche to start a business in, and there are not enough jobs and not enough business opportunities for everyone. There are enough resources for society to ensure that everyone is clothed, fed and given shelter, and even to have a high standard of living.
Work on it’s own is not always good for you or somehow virtuous no matter what you say. One study that the DWP likes to quote [PDF link] did say work is good for you but the definition of work used was far wider than just paid employment, and stability of work and income was considered essential for work to be beneficial. Doing something worthwhile will usually make people happier than doing nothing but that doesn’t need to be paid employment. As an aside, work for benefits schemes (“workfare”) can have the opposite effect especially if the work is perceived as pointless. And if the workfare is actually something that needs doing then it’s probably putting someone else out of work.
If employment is not beneficial in itself, and if there aren’t enough jobs to go round, and if there are enough resources for everyone in spite of this, then punishing someone for failing to find a job is simply cruel and vindictive. It is punishment for something people have very little control over. Moreover, it is punishment for failing to do something that is not necessary. If someone doesn’t want to work, what difference does it make to you if they don’t find a job and someone else fills any vacancy? It won’t lower the cost of social security. Would you rather they were unhappy just to make you feel better? A better solution is citizens income / universal basic income, or failing that, putting a stop to benefit sanctions. The all-too popular idea of “Don’t work don’t eat” is cruel and vindictive in this modern age.