How do we re-frame our welfare and immigration problems?


9:05 am - January 25th 2011

by Sunny Hundal    


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Pollsters can only tell you where the public is at and how it arrived there. They can’t tell you where the public is going, nor do they usually say how to take them to a particular place.

I was reminded of this during my panel debate recently at the Fabians annual shindig. A very friendly union guy came up to me after and said that while he agreed with much of what I said about Labour needing to fight the cuts, many working class people he talked to thought Labour was already too soft on welfare recipients.

If you read the polls enough, this is an obvious point to make: Labour is perceived as too soft on immigrants and what the Daily Mail refer to as ‘welfare scroungers’ by a significant margin of voters. And many of the voters who think that are working class voters who traditionally vote Labour. He didn’t have to tell me this as I follow polls obsessively.

You can’t really blame Labour’s pollsters for making the point, because the party was perceived as too nice to immigrants and welfare recipients by many of the core voters.

From that position, Labour strategists, especially from the right of the party, have traditionally taken the view that the party had to move to the centre. It has to be hard on immigrants and it had to keep talking about ‘welfare reform’. Phil Woolas incessantly talked about the former while his equally empty-headed colleague James Purnell took up the latter task.

Neither strategy worked. Purnell’s welfare reforms were a disaster in practice and Woolas’ measures did little to stem the flow of immigrants from Eastern Europe.

It didn’t work politically either because they opened the door for the Conservatives to move further to the right and keep attacking Labour for being too ‘soft touch’. Despite their hardened rhetoric, Labour went into the general election trailing behind on both issues.

What you can blame pollsters for, and Labour strategists for, is not thinking five steps ahead.

In both cases Labour allowed itself to get into an electoral cul-de-sac – once you go down that route there is no way out and no way to win. You are fighting on the opposition’s territory. It isn’t merely about ‘moving to the centre’, as Labour’s rightwingers keep pushing for, but about how you frame the debate.

As Jon Cruddas recently said:

In a way that mirrors Hayek’s liberalism, New Labour’s utilitarianism cultivated an acquisitive, selfish individualism cut loose from social obligations. We kiss up and we kick down. Where is the compassion? The door was then opened for David Cameron’s Compassionate Conservatism as Labour lost its language, its hope and optimism. Carry this on to today and it is logical that we blame the victim- the migrant or welfare recipient.

My response at the Fabian event was to say that Labour had to find ways to reframe the debate. Left-wingers keep naively believing that all working class people have their values, and therefore standing against ‘welfare reform’ comes with no electoral loss; Labour’s right-wingers keep trotting out the old line that we must occupy the centre ground in order to bear the Tories. Both are losing strategies.

Of course, reframing both welfare and immigration from a left-wing perspective is easier said than done, especially when you’re faced with a predominantly right-wing press. But that is the challenge ahead of us or we keep losing on both issues, and people keep suffering.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


Your party wouldn’t have been in a better position if Ministers hadn’t seen the light (or moved to the centre as you put it) on welfare and immigration.

You say that Labour went into the election trailing on both issues, but how could you possibly expect Labour to transform their bad reputation overnight – especially when it looks like the new approach was cosmetic, for electoral purposes and not supported by your grassroots?

Moving to the present, nobody of influence in the PLP is looking to fight the Tories on welfare reform. Even Harriet’s biting her tongue.

That is true about welfare reform. Pretty sure Labour began the rot with phasing out of incapacity benefit.

” . . . a predominantly right wing press . . . ” Is that something new? Do working class people read the Daily Mail or regard the BBC’s Nick Robinson and co. as unbiased? I’m sure they do – but ironically, -does immigration ever win elections for Tories in office? More to the point – is it allowed to become an issue? It seems that the BNP and their toxic ilk ride high only when there is a Labour Government in power. I suspect it’s all about emphasis and innuendo ” Are you thinking what we are thinking?” – Nudge nudge wink wink – say no more!
The left must run a successful ( best -selling) newspaper – or get Derren Brown on side in the department of subliminal manipulation – or keep on appealing to working people’s humanitarian side!

The Labour narrative has traditionally been to tell working class voters that they deserve a better deal, and if they perceive themselves getting a worse deal than “immigrants and welfare scroungers” then the sense of betrayal will be understandable. You make room for a party like the BNP, that will claim to genuinely represent the white working class.

Or to put it another way, Labour is all about bigotry based on social class, and shouldn’t be surprised if that is expressed in an unintended manner. You might be better at it if you weren’t all in fact middle class people trying and largely failing to be bigoted against yourselves.

“Left-wingers keep naively believing that all working class people have their values, and therefore standing against ‘welfare reform’ comes with no electoral loss;”

Interesting. Where is the evidence that “standing against welfare reform” leads to electoral loss?

It doesn’t, after all, get cited in any of the surveys as a reason why substantial numbers of people chose not to vote Labour (in contrast to immigration/the economy/Gordon Brown).

I suspect it is an issue where a lot of people believe, if asked, that we need to crackdown on the scroungers, but it is not a big issue in deciding how they vote.

Furthermore, some people – amongst those directly affected – stop voting Labour as a result of the welfare reforms. This is a smaller number of people, but the issue is going to be a bigger deal for them. I wonder how many votes Labour got from people wrongly assessed by Atos Origin in the 2 years before the election, for example.

International examples are also interesting. After Clinton’s welfare reforms, the Democrats didn’t win a national election for 10 years, and the SPD haven’t won an election since Hartz IV.

‘You can’t really blame Labour’s pollsters for making the point, because the party was perceived as too nice to immigrants and welfare recipients by many of the core voters.’

Since Labour imprisoned the children of immigrants its hard to think how they could have been less ‘nice’ without actually drowning them in a sack.

And who is Labour’s Work And Pensions spokeman? Liam Byrne, Harvard Business School alumnus and management consultant best known for his “joke” note about there being no money left and fighting tooth and nail to prevent compensation for those who lost money in the Equitable Life collapse, 50,000 of whom died while waiting.

Instead of hoping to re-frame the debate (whatever that means) you would do better to participate in it. I can understand your difficulty in doing so on immigration (potential nasty racist connotations) but what about welfare?

The reason that there is a significant working class antipathy towards welfare recipients is because, for them, welfare is not an intellectual notion- an idea that confirms your essential humanity when you express it over the dinner table or at a party conference. For them, welfare is a reality that is confirmed each morning when they scrape the ice off their car and look at their neighbour’s front door. Their antipathy towards welfare recipients is based entirely on resentment at the perceived unfairness of what they see every day.

My antipathy, on the other hand, is not aimed at the welfare recipients (who are only falling in with what is in their best economic interests) but at the welfare system itself. Because this Fabian construction that was intended to help the poorest among us by abolishing poverty has, in fact, blighted the lives of a whole section of society.

By abolishing aspiration.

Welfare did not “abolish aspiration”, the economic policies of the past thirty years did that. IF there are those who see life on welfare as better than work (though I’m sceptical about that, I wouldn’t make it to Tuesday on £65 a week) its because of low paid jobs, lack of employment security and lack of progression from a poorly paid job to a better paid one. If you are at the bottom your life will be a succession of poorly paid, insecure dead end jobs and battles with the Kafkaesque welfare system who now has as its primary objective delaying and confusing claimants to keep the numbers down.

In the city in which I grew up in the seventies jobs were so plentiful that if you just didn’t like what you were doing you could have another one by lunchtime (my brother had three different jobs in one day!) and when you found one where you fitted in the firm offered career progression (my uncle started work with no qualifications aged 15 for a car maker, he’s now coming up to retirement from a management position with that employer). Jobs were plentiful and decently paid and those who were academically gifted enjoyed a free education to whatever level suited their intelligence with grants to cover the cost of living. Virtually no one claimed welfare around where I lived. All gone now. The poor will live and die in poverty unless decently paid jobs come back at all levels and the welfare system becomes more user friendly not less, offering help instead of punishment. This is what their experience teaches them. If a life on welfare is actually preferable to one in work that should tell you more about the state of work than of welfare

Isn’t the answer with the welfare debate to take a line like “It’s unfair, yes. But if you’re angry about the money we’re losing to welfare cheats, you’ll blow your lid when you see the amount we’re losing to tax evasion and not doing a damn thing about. I’m not saying it’s not important that we sort welfare cheats out, but let’s focus on the bigger problems first.”

By abolishing aspiration.

I seen some nonsense published on here but this may take the biscuit. The idea our deep-seated problems with social mobility can be boiled down solely to welfare dependency is preposterous.

Do you really think that if there far less welfare then we would have significantly less unemployment or that the unemployed would all become budding Alan Sugars? Dream on.

The problem for the Labour Party is they bought entirely into this Right Wing consensus concerning the labour market. They are still rather obsessed with bowing down to the needs of big business rather than the needs of the Country or even the people within it.

Those of us on the left have to accept that there are lots of racists in the Country, just like we accept that there are homophobic people in the Country. We do not abandon gay people to their fate simply because gay rights are unpopular on the doorstep. You could say that Iraq and Palestine are other issues that Labour finds difficult to sell on the doorstop, but, by the Christ, you try and get Labour activists to abandon these issues for short term electoral advantage and see how far you get.

The problem for labour is that they sat idly by as the terms, conditions and wages of the poorer workers were eroded to the point that many people are working for ‘below’ the poverty line. Perhaps you should have asked your ‘pro union guy’ why he thought that the working poor were earning less than the non-working poor? Do you think it ever occurred to him that the reason that happened was because some of the most profitable businesses in the World have been successfully driving down the conditions of the poor? Or did you ask him what he thought of the consequences would be to the working poor if the remnants of the Welfare State were removed from the non working poor? Does he really think the working poor’s lot would be improved if we take thirty or forty quid a week from the unemployed would make them better off?

There is no point in proposing policies that will attack the poor, which will result in those working poor staring at a collapse in the price of labour. That will cost Labour in the short term as well as the long term.

I agree that the Left need to address the welfare debate, but we need to make sure that working people need to see that it is in their interests for it to continue.

Whenever the unemployment rate shoots up, we can be absolutely sure there will be surge in media coverage of benefits fraud issues and the unemployed will be told to get on their bikes.

By the final quarter of 1995, Britain’s standardised (ILO) unemployment rate fell below that of France, Germany and Italy and the employment rate of working-age people was higher. Does anyone seriously suppose there was a sudden zeal for cycling in Britain in 1995?

“Since Labour imprisoned the children of immigrants its hard to think how they could have been less ‘nice’ without actually drowning them in a sack.”

I’m glad you waited until Woolas was out of office before saying that – you’d have given him ideas.

But actually here lies the issue. Labour was not soft on immigration and welfare, it was draconian, nasty and pandered to the lowest tabloid hysteria. The fact that “Labour is perceived as too soft on immigrants and what the Daily Mail refer to as ‘welfare scroungers’ by a significant margin of voters” only demonstrates that your actions and policies will not be noticed by those who – lets be kind – don’t pay attention to the detail of policy. As such the issue isn’t about changing policy, but about changing percpetions.

Pagar @ 8

Because this Fabian construction that was intended to help the poorest among us by abolishing poverty has, in fact, blighted the lives of a whole section of society.

That is simply not true. What has ‘blighted’ whole sections of society has been the deliberate and systematic destruction of the economies of whole sections of society.

The welfare State was intended to act as a bulwark against poverty induced through high unemployment. Remember, at the time of the introduction of the Welfare State, all the major Parties, even the Tories, saw full employment as a prime function of Government. Pagar, we both know that is no longer the case.

If you were being absolutely honest, you would admit that mass, long term, unemployment is not only integral part of the system, but long term, mass unemployment was a deliberate tool used by Right Wing Governments to control the economy. There are times when the Government of the day have deliberately forced people onto the dole to ‘control inflation’, i.e. wages at the lower end of the scale, in order to secure the living standards of the wealthier people.


By abolishing aspiration.

All over the World, there are huge swathes of people who are unemployed, despite the protests of the Right Wing, these peope do exist. Yet in many of these Countries have no Welfare State. So who is ‘abolishing aspiration’ in South America or Africa?

Sometimes someone says what you are trying to say, but in a better way. Well played Schmidt, had I read that before I posted, I would not have bothered.

Actually this post reminded me very much of a scene in the BBC series ‘Our Friends in the North’ which I was re-watching recently.

In it the character played by Christopher Eccleston, a left-wing Labour candidate in Newcastle, is thrown when he encounters a very angry woman while canvassing in a working class neighbourhood during the ’79 election. The woman starts haranguing him about the ‘gypos’ who have been crapping in her back garden. Eccleston’s character, impeccably liberal and progressive, doesn’t really know how to respond and we later see the woman being successfully wooed by the Conservative candidate. Pretty ironic when we see what the Conservatives did to the NE post ’79.

Labour’s base has always consisted of an uneasy alliance between the progressive middle class and the working class of whom a pretty significant proportion hold very illiberal views. The problems of crafting messages to appeal to each without alienating the other has never been resolved. Its certainly a very tough nut to crack.

But I would say two things. Firstly part of the hostility towards immigrants is due to the disgraceful coverage we see in the tabloid press with the most heinous offenders being the Mail, Express and Sun. But why in 13 years of power didn’t Labour do anything to challenge this coverage or reform the media?

Secondly in a society in which we have a very large number of long term unemployed, many of whom are hidden on IB, is it a good idea to import large quantities of labour from Eastern Europe, the cream of their societies who will inevitably out-compete our long tern unemployed? I have spent a lot of time in poor communities and the questions people often put to me is why are we letting in all these people from Eastern Europe instead of training our own unemployed young people to do these jobs. And this is a very good question. And that’s before we even consider the impact of immigration on public services or whether its morally acceptable to strip poorer countries of their brightest and most motivated young people that they have spent huge resources on educating. The most scandalous example of this, as Nelson Mandela noted, was importing trained doctors from some of the poorest countries in Africa.

@3 Mulligrubs: but ironically, -does immigration ever win elections for Tories in office?

I dunno, but I suspect the Lib Dems’ policy of an amnesty for illegal immigrants lost them about 2-4% of the vote last May.

“have spent a lot of time in poor communities and the questions people often put to me is why are we letting in all these people from Eastern Europe instead of training our own unemployed young people to do these jobs”

It isn’t a case of either/or though. You can have a liberal immigration policy at the same time as having decent training and job creation programmes.

The problem for labour is that they sat idly by as the terms, conditions and wages of the poorer workers were eroded to the point that many people are working for ‘below’ the poverty line.

I actually think you are being too generous here Jim. New Labour didn’t sit idly by they actively promoted the erosion of employment rights for the most vulnerable in our society.For instance they blocked the imposition of the EU’s Temporary Workers’ Directive and then when they finally allowed it in watered it down by lengthening the qualifying period.

@ bubby

I have spent a lot of time in poor communities and the questions people often put to me is why are we letting in all these people from Eastern Europe instead of training our own unemployed young people to do these jobs. And this is a very good question.

When you are talking about jobs picking fruit, cleaning or working in the catering industry, lack of training is not the issue.

A better question is why our own people from poor communities do not want to take these jobs and, if we’re honest, I think we all know the answer.

@ Jim

So who is ‘abolishing aspiration’ in South America or Africa?

http://www.indexmundi.com/brazil/gdp_real_growth_rate.html

A better question is why our own people from poor communities do not want to take these jobs and, if we’re honest, I think we all know the answer.

I doubt very much you do. You don’t strike me as someone who has any experience of how people at the bottom behave. I accept that there are some people who do prefer the dole to the prospect of work and those people need a bit of stick as well as carrot. However it is undeniably true that is some parts of the country there are very few jobs paying a decent living wage for the bottom 40% of the people who live there. Companies will naturally prefer to employ the cream of East European youth to one of our working class youngsters. If they couldn’t draw on this pool of Europeans then they would have to bid up wages in order to attract British workers. That could provide a significant carrot and increase the differential between wages and welfare. Personally I wouldn’t mind paying a little more for my goods and services if it meant that there were far fewer people unemployed.

@21

A better question is why our own people from poor communities do not want to take these jobs and, if we’re honest, I think we all know the answer.

Yes- it’s because they can’t fucking live on what those jobs pay.

@ bubby

Companies will naturally prefer to employ the cream of East European youth to one of our working class youngsters.

I don’t say you are wrong but why is that?

Is it because the billions we have invested in educating and training our own young people was not enough? Or were the resources misapplied?

Or is it because our own kids have been born into a society in which the state has undertaken to care for them from cradle to grave and who have learned that having a job is optional?

The answers to to the above might not matter if the current economic model for the UK was sustainable, but, sadly, it is not.

@ BPN

Yes- it’s because they can’t fucking live on what those jobs pay.

Then how can the immigrants do so?

26. Luis Enrique

I don’t know what to make of arguments about “framing” things. Doesn’t it equate to saying “we need to change how people think about this issue” which then raises the question of anybody’s ability to do that. But perhaps those better versed in the art of politics than me have such abilities.

I know how I’d like to change how people think about this issue – I’d like people to stop thinking about “welfare claimants” as if that’s a single type of person, whose characteristics we than argue about (are they scroungers? are they the downtrodden shat on by society in need of a helping hand?). Instead, I’d prefer everybody to think in terms of distributions of types, all sorts of different kinds of people claiming welfare for different reasons.

Then it would make less sense for one side to say “we need to get tougher on welfare” and the other side to oppose that. Because it opens up the possibility to “get tougher” in some places and get nicer in some places, and asks us to think about what and how.

It would also diffuse this endless bickering over “scroungers”. The right can be asked “how many people are you talking about” and “how much do they cost the system, and do the benefits of trying to “get tough” with them outweigh the cost”?

And the left could stop carrying on as if the archetypal scrounger doesn’t exist, or is so negligible as to be ignored.

I strongly disagree with the idea that the fact support for “getting tough” on welfare among working class voters tells us that working class voters do not share our left wing values. I’m sure there’s a lot of tabloid stoked hysteria, a tendency to focus on the extremes rather than the whole (something Chris talks about today) and so on. But I suggest it has a lot to do with the fact that if you live in a poor neighborhood, chances are you know some archetypal piss-taking scroungers, and if you are getting up every day to drag yourself into a low paid job you don’t enjoy, damn right you are angry about paying taxes whilst some other people are being funded by the tax payer not to work, for no good reason. There is nothing in “left wing values” that suggests people ought to be happy about that. It’s only when left-winger are equally and oppositely myopic to the right wing – i.e. thinking no claimants are scroungers (left) as opposed to thinking they all are (right) – that they are mystified by working class support for “getting tough” with welfare. Of course people support getting tough on that category of claimant.

Whether or not people have accurate ideas about the quantity of this kind of claimant, or about what “getting tough” means in practice (maybe it’s ineffectual, or does too much collateral damage to “deserving” claimants), is another argument.

@25

By being brought over in numbers, living several to a bedroom in pre-arranged rented accommodation, then shipped back when their time is up – exactly the way it works in the US with migrant labour from Central and South America.

They get paid enough to build a life in their countries of origin, but nowhere near enough to have an acceptable long-term quality of life here.

@25 Because many immigrants are “encouraged” to register as self employed even though they work for a single employer. No pension or holidays, more advantageous tax regime to the company. This foul practice is even spreading to the British workforce, ask the people who deliver parcels for some online retailers.

Those who support the race to the bottom should be aware there is a step below welfare – crime. When a person is disengaged from work by low wages and welfare by a punitive regime it is the only way left to live. Bar that in mind the next time your car is stolen, your house is burgled or you feel something metallic poking you in the back at the cashpoint and enjoy the headline-grabbing tax cuts

29. Roger Mexico

@pagar

“Yes- it’s because they can’t fucking live on what those jobs pay.”

Then how can the immigrants do so?

Because we’re talking about the Eastern European influx, younger workers from the rest of the EU in areas with high unemployment, and others, often illegally here or working illegally. Those are who have been doing those jobs and also reducing wage levels for those already on the lowest earnings.

The incomers are usually young and without families or commitments. They are able to work long, unsociable hours for low rates; happy to go into the illegal economy and work for cash; and willing to put up with poor living conditions to maximise savings. For many there is also the added attraction of being in London or some other fashionable location

They are also much less likely to be unionised, know about minimum wages, object to illegal working or accommodation conditions, be easy to dismiss and, in the case of illegals, are vulnerable to pressure.

This made them the darling of the metropolitan elite during the New Labour years: reducing the costs of the services they use and undermining wage costs. But it meant reduced opportunities for many in the traditional working classes and those less educated (who will then be airily dismissed as “chavs”).

Even if the locals do take such work, those will have or eventually have commitments that are likely to require tax credits and so on to make their income up to livable standards. So effectively welfare is being used to subsidise employers’ profits. A form of welfare sponging that rarely gets condemned in the Daily Mail.

Ironically many of such Brits are the second and third generation descendants of Commonwealth immigrants. These, seeing mostly ‘white’ immigrants being offered many entry level jobs must often wonder if what they’re seeing is good old fashioned racism. Of course the media elite tended emit to cries of “racism” if anyone objects.

That is true about welfare reform. Pretty sure Labour began the rot with phasing out of incapacity benefit.>

Kate I’m afraid this looks like another example of you trying to blame Labour for everything.

If the rot began under Labour then you’re assuming that they have great powers to influence what people are thinking merely by saying a few things occasionally.

As others have pointed out, Labour’s coalition has always included people who had small-c conservative views on welfare, crime and immigration.

Usually the problems weren’t big enough to make them switch, but that shifted somewhat on immigration, mostly because of the scale of EU immigration.

The question of how to win those people back is now up in the air

@ Schmidt and BPN and Roger

The discussion was not about the exploitation of illegal workers- I accept this happens and it is totally pernicious. The solution is to jail the rogue employers and deport the illegals. We’re all in favour of that, right?

But the person serving your breakfast or cleaning your room in any big city hotel is likely to be from an EU country in Eastern Europe.

Why is that?

What is distorting the labour market to the extent that such jobs are not attractive to our own children?

The answer is obvious- the welfare system here is different and. as it is, I don’t for a moment blame the welfare recipients here for staying at home.

I blame the system.

Nor do I want to punish anyone by withdrawing the welfare safety net. Let them keep a good proportion of the benefits they currently receive but, please, give them an incentive to work as well.

Let them keep a good proportion of the benefits they currently receive but, please, give them an incentive to work as well.

What people have been trying to say to you but you don’t seem to have been listening is:

1) There really aren’t many jobs that pay a living wage in large parts of the country.

2) A significant number of the jobs that are available are being given to young elite Eastern Europeans who will be prepared to work for very low wages – the sort of wages that pay very close to benefits.

Pagar @ 21

A better question is why our own people from poor communities do not want to take these jobs and, if we’re honest, I think we all know the answer.

But wait a minute though Pagar, are you suggesting that after the introduction of the Welfare State, these jobs suddenly stopped being done? Is it your contention that the entire low paid sector completely stopped until a million odd Poles turned up? That does not make sense. All these jobs existed during the 1980s right up till now, so what is your point? You surely cannot be suggesting that the millions of people who do low paid work are all immigrants?

What is distorting the labour market to the extent that such jobs are not attractive to our own children?

Guess what? Those jobs are still attractive to millions of people. Of course they are also attractive to millions of young, highly motivated, bright people from across Europe, people who can and do out compete our own people. We are taking people from the top end of Eastern Europe’s bell curve and displacing people from the lower end of our bell curve. That happens everywhere and happens irrespective of the existence of a welfare State.

Regardless of all the whining about immigration, Britain is one of the most successful countries in the world at choosing their immigrants well.

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_-EMpadQx4hM/TRKZ5kB-49I/AAAAAAAAAY8/c_2n4vdbkPk/s1600/immigrant.jpg

Maybe someone can point out from the second chart down the evidence that the incomes of low-end households at the tenth percentile suffered through immigration over the last fifteen years.

http://lanekenworthy.net/2010/12/14/has-rising-inequality-been-bad-for-the-poor/

We in Britain do not have a ‘ working class ‘ labour market problem. What we have is a problem of absorbing a large mass of low-skilled workers many of whom are virtually unemployable. You can’t force business to employ them and you can’t force their real wage higher by government fiat. If the government tried by fiat to force their real wage higher businesses will just employ less of them. I accept that there is a problem with wages for those at the bottom of the wage scale. The only way we can tackle it is through government transfers for those in work but earning low wages. Moreover, we should abolish the human waste that long-term unemployment causes. Long-term unemployment predominately affects the low-skilled. If someone is fit to work and can’t get a job through their own efforts after 12 months, it seems self-evident to me that there is some sort of problem. Therefore, we should pay employers to employ the long-term unemployed. Not some mickey mouse glorified workfare. But real jobs with credible employers and subsidised by the state. I don’t like subsidies but it would be a price worth paying to end long-term unemployment.

What we should not do is create fortress Britain and pretend we can protect the British labour market from competition.

RW @ 34

Long-term unemployment predominately affects the low-skilled. If someone is fit to work and can’t get a job through their own efforts after 12 months, it seems self-evident to me that there is some sort of problem. Therefore, we should pay employers to employ the long-term unemployed.

The very real problem with that is it undermines those on low incomes and acts as a barrier to getting up the ladder in terms of overtime ant T&Cs. If you pay a company like Tesco (for example) to take on the long erm unemployed, then surely it is not in their interest to employ anyone else? Why not pay off all your staff and replace then with the long term unemployed? After a year, you will have a fresh supply of workers.

What we need to do is bite the bullet and move jobs into the Country. Call centre jobs for example, they need English speakers and fitness is not an issue. If we want the ‘x’ million unemployed to get work then our wage bill is gong to go up too.

“especially when you’re faced with a predominantly right-wing press.”

You live in la la land. How’s the weather there?

37. Just Visiting

John Bird, founder of the Big Issue has campaigned against the problems that benefits causes to the poor, for a while it seems.

I saw him on late night politics programmes ages ago, and this is he wrote back in August last year:

“the system doesn’t actually work for the people on benefits. It turns them into a sub-group, breaks them away from society and almost builds a wall around them. It’s a destructive and corrosive culture.”

http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/features/3095552/Big-Issue-co-founder-John-Bird-MBE-backs-Sun-war-on-benefits-spongers.html

@ Jim

There would no doubt be some unforeseen distortions that would need to be addressed as they arose. However, the general point is we could abolish long-term unemployment if we really wanted. The left should be happy if there is no longer long-term unemployment. The right should be happy as it would be the private sector providing the jobs as opposed to government programmes. There would be costs but savings in other areas. I don’t have the figures but I would imagine very few of the under forties who are in and out of prison for minor crimes are in employment. Since it costs us around £800 p.w. to lock them up that is a significant saving if we manage to keep people out of prison. One way or another we are already paying a heavy social and monetary cost for long-term unemployment.

Obviously some people could game the system by only working for a few weeks and then spend the next 12 months unemployed. However, one should not think about these things in terms of the most extreme example. If we consider that most long-term unemployed want to work we increase their future value in the labour market if we give them a job. They acquire a routine of going to work, experience and job skills. Their desirability for future employers increases and as a consequence the chances of them becoming long-term unemployed decreases even if they lose the job provided. At the moment we have 20% youth unemployment because firms will not employ them with low experience. However, they can’t get experience if no one employs them. The premium on experience rises in a depressed economy. As a consequence, they will drift into long-term unemployment.

Now people will say where are these jobs at the moment? However, that is an implicit Lump of Labour fallacy that imagines a fixed amount of jobs. There is no fixed amount of jobs, all that matters is the price compared to the potential marginal added value. Employers respond to incentives and if we provide the incentives then most employers will expand to accommodate the incentive.

Your Tesco example I suppose could be applied to any large employer. You are erroneously assuming that all employers only want the cheapest labour. Maybe in some specific job sectors they do. However, most employers want the best labour that they can get. That really is a crucial point in how the labour market operates. If employers only wanted the cheapest labour then those offering the cheapest labour would not be suffering the worst in the current labour market. Those further up the pay scale would be squeezed and there would be a boom in the demand for the cheapest labour. Currently the opposite is the case and it is those offering the cheapest labour who are being squeezed. None of that contradicts the idea of people being priced out of the labour market. It is the price compared to the skills being offered and employers consider the value added vis-a-vis the cost when recruiting labour.

Maybe some employers on the margins would get rid of their full workforces and employ subsidised labour. However, that is not how most employers behave. The likes of Tesco have billions invested in their labour forces through training and building up goodwill and staff loyalty. They would not throw that investment away just for the sake of cheaper labour. However, they would add to their labour force if the incentives changed.

donpaskini: I suspect it is an issue where a lot of people believe, if asked, that we need to crackdown on the scroungers, but it is not a big issue in deciding how they vote.

Furthermore, some people – amongst those directly affected – stop voting Labour as a result of the welfare reforms. This is a smaller number of people, but the issue is going to be a bigger deal for them. I wonder how many votes Labour got from people wrongly assessed by Atos Origin in the 2 years before the election, for example.

I agree – ‘welfare reform’ also loses voters, and its not clear how many people don’t vote Labour simply because its seen as too soft on them.

But my point is that rather than make it a zero sum game, a new narrative is needed that protects the truly vulnerable, while ensuring that people who think thereare too many scroungers are put off.

“If someone is fit to work and can’t get a job through their own efforts after 12 months, it seems self-evident to me that there is some sort of problem. Therefore, we should pay employers to employ the long-term unemployed. Not some mickey mouse glorified workfare. But real jobs with credible employers and subsidised by the state”

Agree with the principle, but not the detail. First of all 12 months is far too long – the social and psycological problems with unemployment begin much earlier. 6 months should be the time period – with the option of fast tracking people if they want to.

Secondly subsidies to the private sector for recruited long term unemployed people risk displacing people already in those occupations. The roles shouldn’t compete. Instead I think the public sector needs to play a similar role to the bank of england – it needs to be the employer of last resort (or at least pay the wages of people who can then work in the third sector), and also take responsibility for training people who it employs into roles that enhance their careers and asperations.

Richard W

I get where you are coming from here. The problem I have is with the delivery. If we start of with the premise that there is between (depending on what sources you use) five and seven million people who are counted as economically inactive. That, in anyone’s language is a huge number. If my memory serves me correctly, that represents somewhere between 20%-25% of the labour force.

I have never been aware of any concerted effort by the private sector to get these people back into work. In fact, quite the opposite appears to be the case. Given that the private sector has been actively grinding the terms and conditions of those in work to BELOW the poverty line (if we use the welfare system as a crude measure of relative poverty), it is almost as if the private sector were actively discouraging the ‘economically inactive’ from joining the workforce. From where I am sitting, it appears that the private sector has no need for these people, save a bit of frictional unemployment around the edges.

So, how do we get them into employment and more importantly how to stay connected to the labour market. Clearly, paying Tesco/ASDA et al money to employ ‘shelf stackers’ is a complete nonsense. The private sector is more than capable of paying for their own shelves to be stacked and given that the market is oversupplied with shelf stackers, toilet cleaners, rubbish collectors and all those other jobs attempting to shoehorn significantly more people into that section of the labour force, is going to end in disaster. Even taking the Lump labour myth into consideration al you are going to do is push the terms and conditions of those people already in the sector down further. In effect, you are going to punish those in work for the supposed ‘lazyness’ of those not in work.

What we need is to create, by whatever means possible, a situation where there is a real shortage of labour so that it soaks up the people from the lower paid end of the market and gets them into more valued jobs, leaving gaps in the labour market at the lower end of the market. The private sector will then be actively recruiting people from difficult areas of the labour force. The man with health problems looks more attractive a prospect if there is a labour shortage and single mothers can be brought onside with a decent crèche for example.

Of course the ironic thing is that the Government of the Day used to have exactly that in the shape of Nationalised Industry and National service.

42. Chaise Guevara

@ 36 Concerned

“You live in la la land. How’s the weather there?”

Christ… ok, right-wing papers: The Sun. The Express. The Mail. The Telegraph. The Times, albeit lightly. The Mirror, once you get onto social issues. What percentage of total circulation do you think you’ve got there?

Whereas the left has the Independent, the ailing Guardian and the Mirror on some issues. Unless you think “right-wing” means “what Fox News thinks”, the right has the press in its pocket.

Thank you for raising this vital issue in Liberal Conspiracy.

“A great many people are about to be very seriously harmed, and there will be tragedies, some of them fatal.”

“There has been no ‘risk assessment’ of these barbaric policies.”

“These are the sick and disabled citizens of our country who have been abandoned to their fates by all parties to suffer attack on every side.”

“This is a blood stain on the good name and conscience of this generation.”

“All who do not speak out now are complicit in a crime against sick and disabled people.”

“And yes, this is a debate on our fundamental values.”

“The truth is there for all to see.”

Black Triangle
Anti-Defamation Campaign
In Defence of Disabled Claimants
http://www.facebook.com/blacktriangle1


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    How do we re-frame our welfare and immigration problems? http://bit.ly/h4t1hs

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