Skip to main content

Tories bring back Victorian Poor Law without the workhouse

The attitude and policies of this government to the poorest and the least fortunate takes us back to the days of the Poor Law. Putting the poor to work is possessed of an attitude that the poorest are feckless and work-shy and must be put to work for their own benefit.

It is not only a divisive approach, setting the more fortunate against the least fortunate, but it is profoundly unethical and counter-productive. It has its populist appeal. But it is profoundly wrong. It tars the majority of unemployed with the brush of the minority.

I hear it said commonly in radio phone in programmes 'there's plenty of work out there if only they were willing to look for it.' And that about sums up as much as they 'know'. They know if for sure; there is work out there. Of course there is, but where is it?

Unemployment is said to be falling. The headline figures demonstrate this. But it is not falling uniformly across the country. In some regions it has risen and not fallen. One problem for the unemployed is that it is impossible to move from regions of high unemployment to find work. Costs are simply too high for such a move. So families are stuck.

But the Tory government adopts the old 'get on your bike' mentality, which suggests that somehow those who were in work before the recession suddenly became work shy during it.

The government says it wants to make 'work pay'. What they really mean is that they want to give the unemployed less in the mistaken belief that this will drive them back to work.

Now it may be true that for some there is little incentive to take employment when earnings will be less than that received in benefits. But to suggest this is the main reason for unemployment is to blame the poorest for the recession and assume that somehow they are masters of their own fate.

The poorest and least fortunate are being made to pay for the mess that the banking sector got us into. But the reason is that the Tory attitude to the poor isn't driven by understanding of the recession, it is driven by ideology. If IDS had the chance he would bring  back the workhouse. Driving people into 'work for their benefits' simply makes the low pay problem worse.

For the wealthiest this is great. We are heading for an economy based on virtual slave wages. Millions of decent, hard working people take home insufficient to meet their basic needs. That is the definition of poverty. To solve this problem we need to create an economy that pays wages that at the least meet basic needs of housing and feeding a family.

Mr Duncan Smith talks of 'fairness' without understanding what it means. He assumes it means 'treating people the same'. But this leads to the kind of indiscriminate cuts in benefits this government has imposed, such as the bedroom tax that takes little account of real need.

Meanwhile Osborne says he will create a budget surplus. This becomes a goal for which there is little need. Running budget deficits is not in itself a problem. If you run a budget deficit because of increased spending on health and welfare, the economy benefits from a healthier and more productive  workforce. This is something that enlightened Victorians realised, which is why they set about investing in infrastructure, public works that improved the health of the nation.

It would be better for Osborne to adopt three goals: 1) to create a full-employment economy based on 2) a living wage and to 3) improve housing and health of the population. These are real goals; running a budget surplus for its own sake  is a foolish goal that can only be achieved through austerity. In any event, if you want to run a budget surplus then full employment and increased productivity, a healthy sustainable workforce, is more likely to be successful because it increases revenue.

Postscript

The way government ministers talk about the unemployed suggests that they haven't been looking for work, and that somehow they have slipped into a 'culture' of 'getting something for nothing'. This really isn't born out by the figures supplied by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Of the nearly 2.5 million unemployed people,  less than 1 in 5 (18%) had been looking for work for over 2 years. This is the 'hard core' of the long-term unemployed.  The largest group (47%) have been unemployed for under 6 months. There is very little here to suggest the unemployed wish to remain on benefits, or that they are feckless and work shy.

A feature of this recession is that more people than ever before are only able to get part-time employment, or their jobs are temporary leading to further periods of unemployment. Again there is little to suggest that these people are feckless and work shy or adopting a culture of dependency! 

On the contrary where we have a culture of dependency is for businesses who depend on paying low wages to workers. It is business that is being subsidised by welfare payments. Businesses needs to adjust to paying a 'living wage' to their workforce. Currently we have a labour market that is distorted and fosters low pay.

Read also:

The unethical language of 'welfare dependency'
The Conservatives brand the unemployed as 'shirkers'

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Ian Duncan-Smith says he wants to make those on benefits 'better people'!

By any account, the government's austerity strategy is utilitarian. It justifies its approach by the presumed potential ends. It's objective is to cut the deficit, but it has also adopted another objective which is specifically targeted. It seeks to drive people off benefits and 'back to work'.  The two together are toxic to the poorest in society. Those least able to cope are the most affected by the cuts in benefits and the loss of services.

It is the coupling of these two strategic aims that make their policies ethically questionable. For, by combining the two, slashing the value of benefits to make budget savings while also changing the benefits system, the highest burden falls on a specific group, those dependent on benefits. For the greater good of the majority, a minority group, those on benefits, are being sacrificed; sacrificed on the altar of austerity. And they are being sacrificed in part so that others may be spared.

Utilitarian ethics considers the balan…

Keir Starmer has a lot to offer

The Labour Party is in the process of making a decision that will decide whether it can recover from the defeat in 2019 General Election.  All the candidates have much to offer and are making their case well.

No doubt for some the decision will be difficult.  Others may well have made up their minds on the simple binary of Left-wing-Right-wing.

The choice should be whoever is best placed to pull the party together.  Someone who can form a front bench of all talents and across the spectrum in the party.

That is what Harold Wilson did in the 1960s.  His government included Roy Jenkins on the right and Barbar Castle on the left; it included Crossman and Crossland, and Tony Benn with Jim Callaghan.  It presented a formidable team.

Keir Starmer brings to the top table a formidable career outside politics, having been a human rights lawyer and then Director of Public Prosecutions.   He is a man of integrity and commitment who believes in a fairer society where opportunities are more widel…

No evidence for vaccine link with autism

Public health bodies are worried that an alarming drop in childhood vaccinations is leading to a resurgence of diseases in childhood that we had all but eradicated.  Misinformation and scare stories about the harmful effects of vaccines abound on the internet and in social media.  Where they are based on 'science', it is highly selective, and often reliance is placed on falsehoods. 
Conspiracy theories also abound - cover-ups, deception, lies. As a result, too many parents are shunning vaccinations for their children.  So, what does the published, peer-reviewed literature tell us about vaccincations? Are they safe and effective, or are there long term harmful effects? 
A new report now provides some of the answers.

New evidence published in the Cochrane Library today finds MMR, MMRV, and MMR+V vaccines are effective and that they are not associated with increased risk of autism.

Measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella (also known as chickenpox) are infectious diseases caused by …