Do unemployed people need a kick up the backside?

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:

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.

Author: Latentexistence

The world is broken and I can't fix it because I am broken. I can, however, rant about it all and this is where I do that when I can get my thoughts together. Most of the time you'll find my words on Twitter rather than here though. I sometimes write for Where's The Benefit too.

6 thoughts on “Do unemployed people need a kick up the backside?”

  1. “Doing something worthwhile will usually make people happier than doing nothing but that doesn’t need to be paid employment.”

    Yes it does. If you find the activity worthwhile and, importantly, other people think what you are doing is worthwhile then it is worth paying for as employment.

    And since it is impossible (in fact irrational) for the private sector to provide enough jobs for everybody in a productive economy, then that work has to be provided by the other sectors. Particularly the state – preferably via a full blown Job Guarantee.

    The key is that the jobs have to arise to fit the person, help them make the best use of themselves and demonstrate their worth to wider society.

    Basic income ideas cannot work because other people won’t let them work even before you get onto the technical issues as to why they fail (http://www.3spoken.co.uk/2014/10/the-political-aspects-of-basic-income.html). We need to do more than just pay people off.

    1. The link you’ve given there seems to be broken. But I challenge your assertion about basic incomes not working. It has. Here’s evidence:

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/30/city-eliminated-poverty-mincome_n_6392126.html
      Seems they found that just providing people with the ability to get by kept them out of poverty and prevented all sorts of other costly woes.
      The opposition to such an idea is essentially political. Those who advocate a small state and less taxes tend to oppose such schemes for the sake of their own personal well-being rather than that of society overall.
      In a world where we are increasingly headed towards low levels of employment due to technology and automation, are we going to decide to have a dog-eat-dog attitude to unemployment, which could lead to uprisings, let alone even more poverty related deaths than we are getting now already, or is society going to look after everyone?

      1. The people who oppose such schemes are those that have to continue to work and keep the lights on – mostly working class. You have to demonstrate them that you are doing something worthwhile for you corn otherwise you are a ‘scrounger’ and they will politically agitate to have it removed.

        And that’s before you get onto the economic arguments and the social cohesion arguments.

        Ultimately Basic Income is an invention of the Latte Set because *they* want to swan around doing just what they fancy doing.

        The ordinary working person just wants a job that pays enough to live on and that allows them to hold their head up within their peer group.

        http://www.3spoken.co.uk/2014/10/the-political-aspects-of-basic-income.html

          1. There is always work. Work is just what you do with your time that your peers think is useful and therefore worth paying the living wage for.

            So it’s all down to what other people think is useful. And that depends on how socially cohesive and advanced your society is.

            I’m sure you’d like to be able to do anything you want. You can’t because other people won’t let you. Get over it and learn to live in a society.

  2. The only people who need a kick up the backside are the idle lazy rich who sit on their fat rich backsides getting richer off the poor/working class and then buggering off to tax havens and keeping all the wealth for themselves.

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