Monday, November 08, 2010

No to Workfare, yes to a Green Wage Subsidy

So, Ian Duncan Smith is going to force the long term unemployed to work a 30 hour week for one month receiving nothing in return, apart from any items they manage to smuggle out of the workhouse place of work.

There have been howls of outrage from sources ranging from Twitter (John McDonnell MP says "Labour can rediscover its historic mission in defending the poor from the savagery of workfare,cuts in housing, and disability benefits"), right up to the Archbish of Canterbury.

First off, there is indeed a problem with long-term unemployment, which affects about 1.4 million people, ~5% of those of working age. The Tories have bought the US line, that this is a "lifestyle choice". Hmm. Not sure how much choice comes in to it. "Habit" might be more accurate. There is also the small matter of availability of work. Every vacancy attracts five candidates. If you are an employer taking on people, and have a choice (that word again) between someone who has a good working record, and someone who has been out of work for 9 years, which one are you going to take? Hmmm?

Another thing. The proposal is that long term claimants should be forced to do four 30-hour weeks, unpaid.  How does this differ from Community Payback (as the old Community Service is now known) that criminals are required to do? This creates a perception that long-term unemployment is some sort of a crime.

Yet one more thing. Claimants who do not take employment opportunities will have their benefit stopped. Assuming (reasonably) that they have no savings, this gives them three options:
  1. Starve
  2. Steal
  3. Sponge off their friends and relatives.
And a fourth thing. Say a street cleaner gets made redundant, cannot find another job, so he is unemployed so long he has to do the unpaid work thing. And he gets told to go sweep the street. There's something wrong there, no?
    There are a few real problems here. The Devil, as ever, in the detail. It is becoming apparent that the Coalition is not very good at detail, although it does have a very good relationship with the Devil.

    Long term unemployment is a real problem, and needs real special attention, which might include community schemes - we are all in favour of tidier streets, and freshly painted street furniture &c - but at least the long term unemployed should be given some financial reward for doing community service, if only to differentiate them from criminals.

    IDS has 2 good ideas: streamlining the benefit system, and breaking the unemployment trap. He needs a third idea, because it is totally and utterly pointless to train, motivate and force claimants to seek work, and to  facilitate their passage into said employment if there is no bleeding work out there for  them to take up.

     
    There is a green amendment to his plans that I have put forward. Essentially it takes Ian's idea a step further, and allows people to keep all their benefit when they go into work in the green sector of the economy.  All of it. Without a time limit.

     
    This enables enterprises in the green sector of the economy to increase productivity while providing work. The benefit is transformed from being a dead dole to a living stimulus to the green economy. It creates Green work in the recession, so that we emerge out the other side not only with an energetic green sector of the economy, but also, with the germinal idea of the Citizen's Income at work.

    I called it a Green Wage Subsidy, although I changed it to Work Stimulus Scheme in my submission to the DWP, so as not to frighten the horses.
    Sadly, it was rejected by Green Party Conference a few years ago, basically it was because it was not a full Citizens Income. I see this argument as like not getting on a bus because it is not already at your destination.

    4 comments:

    howard ex-gpns said...

    My goodness! First you withdraw from the general election to assist the Libdems whose leader, several months previously, advised "savage cuts". And then you lend credibility to the Tories' attack on the welfare state through participation in a bogus 'consultation'.
    What next... helping the BNP with their repatriation policy?!

    Musgrave said...

    Workfare is a complicated subject. Any old fool can ask awkward questions. Giving answers is the difficult bit. I’ll answer just one of the above questions. The author asks “And a fourth thing. Say a street cleaner gets made redundant, cannot find another job, so he is unemployed so long he has to do the unpaid work thing. And he gets told to go sweep the street. There's something wrong there, no?

    Well what’s wrong there? Someone was unemployed, and then they get a job in their normal trade or profession. That is better than being unemployed, is it not? GDP goes up, does it not? But I don’t expect Britain’s political left to rejoice or in any way appreciate someone getting a job.

    As to the possibility that the workfare street sweeper might get a lower hourly rate than existing street sweepers, this problem can be solved by having the workfare streetsweeper work a number of hours a week such that the hourly rate equals that of normal street sweepers.

    But that was an easy question to answer. I answer some far more cerebral questions relating to workfare in a paper here: http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/19094/

    I actually deal with the above anomaly, namely some street sweepers being workfare and others not, in this paper.

    rob said...

    -Musgrave-

    Your theories may be excellent and possibly work in practice but to commence your thesis with "any old fool" and include "But I don’t expect Britain’s political left to rejoice or in any way appreciate someone getting a job." is rather very silly and probably turns people off reading what may or may not be an interesting comment.
    It is one thing to have a good policy or idea - it is another to sell it, whether you be an old fool or not.

    DocRichard said...

    Musgrave:
    "Say a street cleaner gets made redundant, cannot find another job, so he is unemployed so long he has to do the unpaid work thing. And he gets told to go sweep the street. There's something wrong there, no?

    Well what’s wrong there?"

    What's wrong there, Musgrave, is that a person who was being paid to do a job ends up with not being paid to do the same job.

    I sit here racking my brains, and cannot find an easier way to express the concept, but do come back if you think there is another angle to it.

    Also, if you had read my post and links with an open mind, you would see that I have a very positive evaluation to good work.

    Thanks for commenting.