Workfare By A Different Name

The Dolphin's Brain By The Dolphin's Brain, 1st Oct 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>News>Politics

The Tory Party conference arrived in Manchester this week, a blue-clad juggernaut driving through one of the reddest of cities, politically at least. On Monday, we heard how George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, plans to reorganise the benefit system; this is why you should denounce every word.

Manchester Hosts Tory Conference

This week’s Tory Party conference is taking place in Manchester, the city where my working life is currently based. It’s a defiling moment in that great city’s history, and that is not a typographical error. The Manchester conurbation was the birthplace of the Co-operative movement (it all began in Rochdale) and has been a Labour stronghold (with the odd wealthy area bucking the trend) for many years. That the divisive tones of Cameron, Osborne, May and the rest should be heard here is an affront. It was, of course, the subject of protest, specifically, in this instance, against government policy on the NHS and austerity.

Separating The Parties

It is not in the area of broad economic policy where one can see the greatest divide between the main political parties. After all, public borrowing has increased under this government, not fallen, and the Labour Party has committed itself to a similar level of ‘austerity’ to that currently promulgated by Osborne and Cameron and masquerading as a solution to the financial crisis.

Further, in the good old days, when we did not have three variations on a centrist theme, nuclear disarmament produced divergent political views; now we have Labour and the Tories pledged to replace Trident.

We even have Labour claiming to be the party of small business, the merest hint of which would have the party’s founders apoplectic, were they in a position for it to trouble them at all. The political parties positively froth at the mouth at the prospect of being seen as THE party that is the most pro-business.

It is in how the Tory Party regards the weakest and poorest in our country that it shows its true colours.

Osborne's Flight Of Fancy

Reading over Osborne’s speech from yesterday merely emphasises that politicians, generally, live in a different world, one in which they think the electorate is, collectively, stupid. They’re all at it, but the sheer effrontery of Osborne’s claims sets him apart, at least for this week. Here are a few quotes from the early part of his speech.

“On the eve of the election, I told this Conference: ‘We're all in this together.’ It was more than a slogan. It spoke of our values and of our intent: That there would be sacrifices, and cuts that would be tough to make; that everyone was going to have to play their part.”

“Three years later, my message remains the same: We're not going to get through this as a country if we set one group against another, if we divide, denounce and demonise. We need an effort from each and every one; one nation, working hard together. We are still all in this together.”

The facts speak differently, of course. Tax breaks for millionaires, a failure to deal with the bankers, an inability to take on the tobacco industry – all these deny his claim of us ‘all being in it together’.

Targetting The Vulnerable

But these issues pale into insignificance in comparison to his attack on those less able to fend for themselves, those who are the most vulnerable, for here we see the real philosophy of the Tories. At the heart of the party there is a view that some are less deserving than others, who should be grateful for the crumbs from the top table that they are allowed to keep; that they are scroungers and parasites feeding off those “hard-working families” who now seem to be the target audience of choice. (And my, how we are all going to loathe that particular mantra as it gets repeated ad nauseam from now until the election!)

It is easy to conclude that there is no real sense of compassion amongst the party’s hierarchy because to have compassion one has to have empathy and a capacity to understand the suffering of others. How on earth could Osborne have any sense of the despair, hurt, shame, loneliness and desperation that being unemployed generates in the vast majority of people who suffer the ignominy of it? He can’t, because even if he ever has been unemployed, he has always had the cushion of wealth that would have meant a continuing life of luxury. Does anyone think Osborne has ever had to use a tea bag more than once, boil and eat just rice or lentils because of having insufficient money to buy vegetables, fruit, meat and the like? No, nor do I.

The Great Workfare Con

The Tories have long held the view, sometimes at the margins, that the benefit system is part of a ‘something for nothing’ culture. That view is now centre stage as the concept of ‘Workfare’ gets a makeover and a greater prominence.

The long-term unemployed are now going to have to work for their benefits – 30 hours a week, no less. What does Osborne envisage them doing? Seemingly, picking up litter or feeding the elderly or perhaps even cleaning up graffiti. I’m not sure Osborne actually knows what will be required of this particular group of claimants.

The whole idea belies a gross level of ignorance at the centre of Tory policy; ignorance of what it feels like to be unemployed; ignorance of what it is to be valued for the work one does; ignorance of the fact that the vast majority of the unemployed are not out of work by choice. It also demonstrates a desire, if not actually a need, to ‘divide, denounce and demonise’. Later in his speech he said,

“Where is the fairness, we ask, for the shift-worker, leaving home in the dark hours of the early morning, who looks up at the closed blinds of their next door neighbour sleeping off a life on benefits? When we say we're all in this together, we speak for that worker. We speak for all those who want to work hard and get on.”

What is that if not an attempt to label all unemployed people as wastrels, lazy and unwilling to contribute? For this is what the Tories want to convince people is the case – that it is ‘hard-working families’ against the feckless, those who strive against those who would rather scrounge and feed off the system.

Real Jobs For Real Money

Mr Osborne, you probably do not know this, but keeping the streets clean, feeding the elderly and infirm and, yes, even graffiti cleaning, are each the responsibility of individual communities. How do those communities deal with these issues? The local council employs people in real jobs for real wages. If these jobs need doing in parts of the country, if there are gaps in such provision, it is because local authorities have been required to cut such services, make people redundant and focus an ever-reducing budget in other areas. Here’s an idea – give local authorities the funds to actually employ people, perhaps give them more money to create real jobs for real people.

Ah, but I can hear you thinking it, “That’s too expensive!” Well, I have more interesting news for you – Workfare doesn’t work; it doesn’t create jobs, it doesn’t help people into work and it isn’t cost effective. If you need some background information on this, try following up this Huffpost article. You’ll find it refers back to work done by the Department for Work and Pensions.

Community Service is valuable. It has added value because the whole idea is it comes from an individual desire to volunteer and be a helpful citizen. Some people do this overtly, others in less obvious ways, but it is its voluntary nature that distinguishes it.

Compulsory Community Service has its place too; this is where the criminal justice system seeks to illuminate the minds of the convicted by promoting an improved attitude to the community they live in while at the same time, for example, enhancing community infrastructure. It's a form of punishment that should stay linked to the wider effort of reducing recidivism.

No one can deny that some individuals ‘work the system’, but the overall cost to the country is miniscule compared to the billions big corporations avoid paying in tax. It's an old and worn comparison, but no less true for that. Tory policy, at its core, far from producing a rational solution merely equates the jobless with the criminal; its express purpose is to create the mind-set in the average voter that the unemployed are no better than the burglar down the road, the drug-dealer on the estate or the anti-social teenagers hanging around the nearest street corner. In that way, the unemployed become deserving of the same treatment as the local villains, and we all know, villains need punishing, not helping.

© The Dolphin’s Brain 2013


Austerity, Bankers, Cameron, Chancellor, Chancellor Of The Exchequer, Co-Operative, David Cameron, George Osborne, Jobless, Labour, Labour Party, Manchester, May, Millionaires, Nhs, Nuclear, Osborne, Rochdale, Tax Breaks, Theresa May, Tories, Tory, Tory Party, Tory Party Conference, Trident, Unemployed, Workfare

Meet the author

author avatar The Dolphin's Brain
I am a mixed bag of lawyer, vegan, environmentalist and sports nut and my writing is likely to be passionate, of-the-moment articles on a wide variety of topics. I also write the occasional poem!

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