Labour have announced their answer to unemployment. They have called it a “compulsory jobs guarantee”.
“A One Nation approach to welfare reform means government has a responsibility to help people into work and support those who cannot, but those who can work must be required to take up jobs or lose benefits as a result – no ifs or buts.” – Ed Balls
Under the scheme those who have received Job Seeker’s Allowance for two years would be sent to work for six months. The scheme would be funded by reinstating tax on income used for pension contributions. On the face of it, guaranteed work is a great idea. Providing jobs for anyone that wants them is fine with me. I see a few problems though.
- The work will only last six months.
- Only people unemployed for two years will get it. (At first, anyway.)
- We have no idea what that work will be, what organisation it will be with, or if it will be meaningful work or just activity to pass the time.
- Removal of benefits for those who do not take up this unspecified compulsory work.
The compulsion is the biggest problem to me. There are lots of reasons why this work may not be a good idea. Off the top of my head, the unemployed person may be in training towards finding a job for themselves, they may be engaged in voluntary work in their field to keep themselves employable, or, indeed, voluntary work providing valuable services, they may have been judged fit for work and removed from sickness benefits while not actually being fit enough to do the compulsory guaranteed work, they may have childcare or other carer responsibilities that their work must fit around.
I have serious reservations about what organisations this work will be for. Current schemes, commonly derided as Workfare, involve sending people on benefits to work unpaid for supermarkets and shops such as Tesco and Argos, or in charity shops. These schemes are a direct subsidy to those businesses with free labour and result in less work available for paid employees. Sending people to work for a business for six months at a time would make this situation even worse with more loss of paid jobs.
It is my belief that there are not and cannot be enough jobs available for everyone. We are able to fulfil all our needs with less than full employment, and capitalism has already got providing things that we want covered. There are places where people could find work if only funding were available – healthcare, housing, and education and all those services and public sector jobs that have been cut. Government should invest in teachers, social housing and the NHS, which would boost jobs in those fields. The so-called “culture of worklessness” is a myth, and I believe that people would happily work in those jobs.
In my ideal world we would pay every citizen enough to live on, and working for more income would be optional but until then let’s at least get some social security that isn’t based on scrounger rhetoric.