Cutting benefits is not the route to full employment - Queen's Speech

Wed, 27/05/2015 - 13:10 -- nick

The Queen's Speech, which sets out the government's planned new laws, is taking place right now in the House of Commons.

Among the expected assaults on freedom and immigration are important proposals that will directly impact on unemployed people.

The new business secretary, Sajid Javid, has promised to cut 'red tape' on businesses by £10 billion, and the phrase should strike fear into the heart of decent people.

'Red tape' is an idea conjured up to imply a ridiculous and pointless burden of form filling, but it usually covers valuable work like protecting the environment, keeping people safe and, vitally, giving rights to workers.

This is vital if the jobs unemployed people are offered are to be truly better than being unemployed. If all 'red tape' was removed from businesses, they could pay as little as they liked, offer no sick pay or maternity leave, and have more workers die due to a lack of health and safety regulation.

There is better news for parents: those with children aged three or four will be given 30 hours of free childcare per week, a vital support for working women in particular.

But the key law comes in the form of the horribly-misnamed full employment and welfare benefits bill, which was introduced in this way:

"Legislation will be brought forward to help achieve full employment and provide people with the security of a job."

You might assume that this description applies at least in part to some kind of work creation scheme, or a set of changes designed to stimulate the private sector to create opportunities.

In fact, there is nothing of the sort, and the Conservatives have simply used the name of the bill to hammer home the imaginary connection between higher benefits and high unemployment.

The problems with this are obvious: first, the UK has some of the lowest unemployment payments in western Europe, and is one of very few in the whole of the continent not to pay in proportion to previous income.

The unemployment rate in the UK has always gone up and down with the economic health of the country, not with the morals of its citizens.

Most importantly, almost no unemployed people are dodging work. In all areas of the UK there still aren't enough jobs for everyone; in all areas there is a mismatch between the skills needed by industry and those that most workless people have.

Making the connection between the payment of benefits and work avoidance is part of the moral crusade that has seen conditions for all benefit claimants take such a dive under the coalition.

They have been fond of using the language of 'strivers v skivers' and the idea of workless people who are too fond of their beds to work as cover for their assault on the poorest in Britain.

If the Liberal Democrats really did act as a brake on Tory viciousness in the last parliament, this next five years could see even worse privation for those unfortunate enough to be out of work at any point during it.

We already know about the reduction in the benefit cap - down £3,000 to £23,000 - and a freeze in most payments, the ending of JSA and housing benefit for those aged under-21 (presumably they can all simply move into multi-million pound homes on their families' estates for free like Iain Duncan Smith?), but this covers less than £2 billion of a planned £12 billion saving.

The other £10 billion to be cut is likely to see the whole idea of universal benefits challenged, and this is why no specifics on this part were revealed during the election campaign.

The only hope is that, in cutting into payments to those not deemed morally-lacking, the Tories face a backlash and understand that the public's appetite for punishment is far more finite than they believed.