Reform is one thing, cuts are another
It won’t have gone unnoticed by many of you that yesterday was the announcement of the coalition’s Comprehensive Spending Review. I participated in a live blog courtesy of our friends at Personnel Today. All of the commentary was pretty straight until we came to the subject of “welfare reform”. At which point in a perfectly pleasant manner a few feathers flew.
I described the announcement as “rhetoric”. Because it is. Let us be clear: there is no Government on this earth who wants to have economically inactive citizens. It makes no economic sense and is against the ideologies of all main parties. The question is how to get the economically inactive to be active. And this is a question that has vexed politicians and economists for years. The line that “no-one should be better off on benefits than in work” is rhetoric, pure and simple.
In order to get people into work, you need to create jobs. And good jobs, not McJobs. When you’re announcing the redundancies of half a million civil servants, a thousand part time cashier jobs at Tesco or Asda is not going to solve your problems. You need good work. And you need it to be in the right places. As the Governments of the 80s found, creating jobs in the South East whilst making people redundant by the thousands in the North West doesn’t work.
But long term unemployment and welfare dependency is more complicated. It becomes a societal issue, a community issue. Areas of the country which have generations dependent on benefits, where there is a culture of acceptance, a culture of failure, a culture of despair. You won’t get people in these communities into work by slashing their benefits, you’ll only force them deeper and deeper into the poverty trap.
So, I remain convinced that what we heard yesteerday was rhetoric. The announcement was about cuts to the welfare system and not reform. It plays well because sadly we like to pick on those more vulnerable than ourselves….we like to imagine the stories of people living in luxury on benefits are universal. We like to think that this is tough love and that people should “get on their bikes” and we’d rather window dressing than an examination of the real underlying issues.
Those issues are tough and gnarly and in many cases hard wired. But that shouldn’t stop us addressing them, just properly.