Work for the Dole: More lies and misinformation about poverty

truthandliesToday’s report from the Taxpayers Alliance, ‘Work for the Dole’ spreads more myths, lies and misinformation about poverty. 

Another excuse for the media to re-run headlines about millions of workshy benefit scroungers choosing a lifestyle of poverty –  far from the reality of life for those struggling to make ends meet and struggling to find work amidst the longest and deepest recession in more than 70 years.

Written by a successful and ‘award winning’ entrepreneur with a physics degree from Oxford – and clearly very little if any experience of the reality of life on the dole – the report rehashes old myths about poverty, old statistics and even older examples of the worst extreme of workfare from the America, which in many cases have already been abandoned in the US and already been trialed and found wanting in the UK.

Same old myths about poverty
The starting premise of the report was the same old myth (beloved of the Taxpayers Alliance) that the welfare bill is ‘out of control’ because of the ‘huge sums’ spent on benefits for the workshy.  Never mind that more than three-quarters of the benefits bill goes to pensioners, children and disabled people.  Never mind that Jobseekers’ Allowance accounts for less than 3% of the total welfare bill – and has been more or less at the same level for the best part of two decades.  Never mind that of the ‘5 million workless people’ targeted for Workfare, more than two-thirds are actually too sick or ill to work. Never mind that half of those actually on Jobseekers Allowance already find work within 13 weeks.  Never mind that the welfare state is already undergoing its biggest upheaval in a generation, with the introduction of the Universal Credit – which is already designed to simply the benefits system and make work pay.  Never mind that £18 billion has already been cut from the benefits bill, leaving many people struggling to make ends meet. And never mind that more than half a million people were forced to turn to foodbanks last year – almost half as a result of failings in the welfare system.

Same old stories of US workfare
And the idea that we have anything positive to learn from the failed US workfare programmes from the 1990s is frankly laughable.  Never mind that one of the schemes singled out in the Taxpayers Alliance report was so extreme and moralistic that it included cutting benefits for ‘unmarried parents.’  Never mind that a whole swathe of UK politicians, civil servants and policy wonks spent much of the 1990s and early 2000s visited the programmes in the US and concluded that they were too harsh, too judgemental, and had no relevence in the UK. Never mind that the Mandatory Work Programme introduced by the Coalition was not only deeply unpopular not just by those forced onto it but also by many employers, but that (as the report itself admits) the DWP’s own evaluation found that the programme actually had a negative impact on work outcomes for participants.

Same old failure to actually talk to or engage with the real lives of people struggling to make ends meet
But what makes me most angry, is that this is yet another report written ‘about’ the poor without any effort to engage with them as human beings, any effort to talk to them about the reality of their daily lives, any understanding of just how competitive the jobs market is (with in many parts of the country 20, 30 or more people chasing every job), any understanding of the barriers that many people face, any knowledge of the actual workings of the benefits system – and just how harsh and punitive it is already – with over 80,000 people sanctioned (aka made destitute) from Jobseekers Allowance in just one month last year (the DWP haven’t published the actual figures for sanctions since last autumn, presumably because the numbers are too high to make public).

Today I heard just one more story of the kind of reality that the Taxpayers Alliance wouldn’t want to include in their report – because it would undermine the cosy myths about life on the dole.  The son of a member of staff currently on Jobseekers Allowance (£55 a week in case you didn’t know), desperate to get a job, actually managed to get a job interview yesterday. Having spent £20 of his own money to get there (the company refused to pay his travel expenses), he only found out halfway through the interview that the ‘job’ was not actually paid – but was ‘commission only.’  Such knocks are routine for those struggling.  To then be labelled ‘workshy’ is an insult to hard to bear.

If the Taxpayers Alliance wanted to do anything useful or constructive, they should have engaged with these realities – and come up with proposals for how to encourage employers to take on people who are long-term unemployed, who have been failed by the education system, or who face additional barriers (eg disability, caring responsibilities, a criminal record etc) which make it far harder for them to find work.

But hey.  The Taxpayers Alliance don’t let facts, or the actual reality of life on the breadline, get in the way of another good story to bash people who are struggling to make ends meet over the head with.

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13 Responses to Work for the Dole: More lies and misinformation about poverty

  1. john simpson says:

    And you dont let facts get in the way of a good blog either.

    • niallcooper says:

      So John, I accept that I haven’t had time to reference all my facts – but it is a blog after all. But just which of the facts I refer to in the blog do you dispute?

    • Rufus says:

      Pray tell us “the facts” to which you refer. Could they be the same old “scroungers” BS that the TA trot out?

  2. niallcooper says:

    Reblogged this on A Fair Say and commented:

    Our Director, Niall Cooper’s latest blog – responding to the latest report from the Taxpayers Alliance – which he debated live on BBC Breakfast this morning.

  3. Absolutely spot on.
    I myself have tried ringing them today to ask a couple of questions, namely what do they suggest people snactioned by the system do in order to live. They’ve been too busy. Oh well.

    The concern I have is that their misrepresentations and half truths are taken by fact when reported in the mainstream. Consequently those that support these ideas do so because they think people on the dole don’t have to do anything to get the dole.

  4. SYD BILL says:

    Am never sure as to how I can respond to these emails. But in this case, as an Ex Lecturer in FE and Work Based Training, I know that even in the 1980s many of us were aware that many school-leavers would never find paid employment. We wanted to find alternatives and another Raising the School Leaving Age (ROSLA) was not the answer.




    • Deborah Mika says:

      I left school in the early 80s and well remember being told that in times to come most people would work 3 days a week and the leisure industry would be much larger. Perhaps that would be the answer now instead of the workers highly pressured and the unemployed castigated.

  5. I like the things you have to say, Niall – I feel similarly – what makes me cross about the Govt going on about rewarding people who want to work, is that (at least where I live) the jobs aren’t there and there are scores of people going for the few jobs that do arise. The accusation that people on benefits don’t want to work often seems very unfair.
    I would like to see the Govt put its money where its mouth is and invest more in creating appropriate jobs for these people (John Bird’s expressed interesting views along these lines), including those who perhaps have limited capacity for work, either because of disabilities or other issues.

  6. Found a number of issues with the report which I tweeted earlier. Broadly, via the wonder of cut n paste, they are –

    1. TPA has included Attendance Allowance in its table of ‘working age benefits’. Er it’s not, it’s only paid to 65+ See fig 3 p10.

    2. TPA also says £85bn of welfare goes to ‘retired people’. State pension, pension credit & attendance allowance alone make £87.6bn. They also seem to have assumed that all housing/council tax benefit & others (inc Bereavement benefits) goes to working age which they clearly don’t. Reckon that £85bn fig needs a rethink.

    3. TPA says ‘work for the dole’ for those on #ESA is activity ‘activity that they are physically able to do’. What about people with mental health problems? Don’t they exist? Or do they seriously think MH probs don’t restrict you?

    Basic errors in benefits knowledge hardly inspires confidence in the rest of the report.

  7. Peter Scanlon says:

    Ref your jobseeker friend who was offered commission-only work. The National Minimum Wage rules would guarantee NMW rate for all hours worked, whether commission was earned or not. This is, of course, age-related until adult rates (£6.19; £6.31 from 1 October) apply. Naturally if commission was not regularly earned then the employer might not keep the person due to unsatisfactory performance.

    People in other industries don’t realise this either and it can even apply to sleep-ins in the care industry if sleeping overnight is contractually considered to be “work”. Unfortunately employers tend to pay a sleep-in allowance which falls short of NMW for the hours concerned. These are facts which are little known and so such practices go unchallenged.

  8. TonyM says:

    Goods are still being produced. If we hadn’t vastly overpaid ourselves the jobs wouldn’t have moved to other countries. Don’t like it? well the Chinese do. Unless you think the Chinese should lose their jobs to the British which would be very ‘unfair’ on all those people struggling to survive in China. Hmmm round and round the mulberry bush…

  9. Adrian Wait says:

    The Disengaged remain Disengaged and the Trapped are growing ever Desperate… To be ill, disabled, unemployed or in receipt of benefit, we are being Criminalised….
    “Today, Sheila Gilmore has won a debate on a very specific area of welfare reform. The government have made it harder for people to appeal if their claim for Employment Support Allowance is rejected. First, they must now wait for a “Mandatory Reconsideration” which means that the DWP decision maker has to look at his decision again. In principle this is fine – in fact it would be a good idea, hopefully meaning that fewer people had to go through the stress of an unnecessary appeal.
    BUT…and isn’t there always a ‘but’ with this government? Your ESA will be stopped during that period, meaning that for many there will be no income at all. To make things worse, the DWP have refused to set a time limit on how long Mandatory Reconsideration will take. So, in theory, we have a situation where your claim could be rejected, and you lose your only source of income indefinitely. If you plan to appeal, you can hardly sign up for JSA as doing so involves a declaration of “fitness to work”.
    If at the end of all this your appeal is successful, the money you lost would be refunded, but what good is that to people living with no income for a long as the DWP feel like leaving them? How would you eat in the meantime. It’s a shocking situation that could cause untold suffering.”

    Source: Diary of a Benefit Scrounger
    Sue Marsh.

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