Today’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.