Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/543/6305
Punishing the jobless for being jobless
Work and pensions secretary, James Purnell, has announced a major attack on benefits claimants in his new welfare green paper. His claim that the changes will "transform lives" will be borne out, but disgracefully it will be in a transformation for the worse for large numbers of the poorest people in society. Tory leader David Cameron heaped praise on the paper, saying that he is "thrilled" with it and that most of it will be fully supported by his party.
All 4.5 million people on 'out-of-work' benefits will be affected, as major benefits will be renamed and altered. But the main aim of the changes is to force at least one million people off out-of-work benefits altogether.
The draconian measures include forcing people to work for their paltry dole money. After one year of unemployment, claimants will have to do four weeks of work, as if they have to be punished for being out of work. After two years, they will have to work continuously for their benefits, doing work "such as community work". Previously only people with criminal convictions have been forced to do community work.
Incapacity claimants are to face potentially harrowing questioning and tests to force large numbers off benefit. They will have to have a medical check from someone other than their GP.
Single parents will have to seek work when their youngest child is seven. Drug addicts will be 'required' to have treatment. Only full time carers and the severely disabled will escape similar coercion.
If this was not bad enough, the proposals go alongside measures to increase private sector delivery of welfare, consequently reducing jobs in the public sector and ensuring that the profit motive will come before delivery of good quality services.
Purnell has thrown in some small sweeteners.
Slightly higher benefit will be given to those who get through the new incapacity tests. Money given to lone parents from ex-partners will not be deducted from their benefits. Businesses will be offered more funding to help them employ disabled people. Treatment facilities for drug addicts are to be increased.
But these limited measures will not mitigate the effects of the attacks for most claimants. One illustration of this is that funding for the access-to-work programme which presently helps 24,000 disabled people to find work or stay in work will be doubled. But a doubling means this will only potentially help around 48,000 people instead of 24,000, when the government aims to force one million off incapacity benefit.
Much higher funding measures should be introduced while leaving intact the right to claim benefits without sanctions and harassment, and while increasing benefits to a level that can be lived on. But such improvements would be completely contrary to New Labour's cuts and privatisation agenda.
If the government really wants to help people who are out of work, it would not have cut £2 billion from the Department for Work and Pensions. However, the greatest barriers to reducing unemployment are a lack of longterm, well paid jobs, decent childcare, workplace facilities for disabled people, and so on.
Ironically the government tries to dress up its proposals as part of the fight against poverty, sometimes using the slogan 'work works'. But over half of children living in poverty are in working households. Millions of people in poverty are on low wages that make them little better off than being on benefits. Where community work is needed, it should be properly paid to provide real jobs, not forced out of people for £1.60 an hour as Parnell proposes.
This green paper comes at a time when the economy is fast tipping into recession. The number of people on unemployment benefit has risen by 45,000 since the end of January and hundreds of thousands more jobs are likely to go. The Ernst and Young Item Club thinktank has described the economic outlook as a "horror movie".
With its budget deficit heading way over its forecasts, the government is determined to step up its attacks on basic benefits. The budget deficit for the first three months of the financial year was a record £20.4 billion, up £12.5 billion from the same period last year. It is set to worsen further, as the slowing economy means lower government tax receipts.
Meanwhile the super rich evade an estimated £42 billion of taxes a year and the chancellor is backing off from introducing some limited tax-avoidance measures for the top UK corporations because of their cries of alarm. Yet the cries of alarm of the poorest in society are ignored.
Hundreds of thousands of the poorest and most vulnerable people are to be made to suffer further while the super rich are left to wallow in massive luxury. This green paper must be vigorously opposed.
In The Socialist 22 July 2008:
Local government strike
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis