Sinful Wastrels


Unemployed man looking for a job in 1928

Image via Wikipedia

I haven’t had time to read through the White Paper on Welfare Reform called Universal Credit : Welfare that Works yet. I finished work late last night and went to bed almost embarrassingly early. Hopefully, I’ll have a chance to look at the details over the weekend.

In the meantime, just a couple of generalised thoughts. I strongly object to a politician using language like ‘sinful’ in reference to social (or any kind of) policy. We may have an established church but I have no time whatsoever for the drawing on religious language. To say it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth is an understatement.

This government is frighteningly making more and  more moral judgements on people with whom they disagree. Perhaps it is a display of guilt about their overt targeting of those who are jobless.

While I understand the general narrative that there is an ‘underclass of scroungers’ I also challenge it. I turn to my constructionist theories and look at what has actually created this so-called ‘underclass’. It is about the structures and choices that have been left open for people, the lack of a coherent and progressive social policy and the poverty of opportunity rather than pure laziness.

I do not believe the human condition is inherently ‘lazy’. Nor is it a class-based attribute yet we are increasingly seeing these issues tied together. What leads to a lack of desire to work? Perhaps the way that society views certain types of jobs like ‘care work’ which should be the most highly admired  but is relegated to a ‘poor status and poor pay’ profession and the perceptions and opportunities of promotion are poor.

Moving back to social work briefly, I’ve mentioned this many times but my route into social work came initially through voluntary work with adults with disabilities which then turned into (as I used the experience I had gained through CSV) paid work as a care assistant. I think there could be a clearer career path identified for care assistants (those who want to, of course) to grow professionally into social work degrees  but often the people who take these roles are encouraged to have lower aspirations where actually moving sideways into a professional role would create a more secure base to work from in the future.

By humiliating and castigating people for whom there are no jobs, we are potentially creating a greater problem for future generations and a perpetual underclass.

Like a lot of these ‘cuts’ on the agenda, there seems to be little long term planning behind them.

A reform in the benefits system needs to come, of course it does,  but it should not be seen as a cost-saving exercise. It should be accompanied, perhaps on a cost-neutral basis on a systemic restructuring of the way the society operates and puts much more of the focus on improving access to equal educational opportunities. The changes in the university tuition fees could be tied into this.

The nefarious political and moral drive behind the welfare reforms have been seen for what they are. They are a bunch of over-privileged millionaires dictating morality to people who survive on the scraps that the state throws them. When they deign to be more selective in their search for employment, they are penalised heavily or forced into ‘community work’ as ‘volunteers’ where the large companies will, no doubt, benefit.

Four weeks of unpaid forced ‘work’ is not enough to create a ‘work ethos’.  It is more of a ‘workhouse ethos’. Nothing wrong with voluntary work – for me it was the route into work and into a profession that I love but that was because I wanted to do it and I needed to do it. Of course people should be inherently wanting to work but I don’t believe that people don’t want to – it is just about fitting the type of work to the person and punishing people in a time of high unemployment for not working. There need to be changes that work on the expectations and the equal or rather, more equal access to opportunities alongside changes in the welfare systems.

Yes, the money is running out. Yes, there need to be cuts. But unemployment benefit or rather jobseekers allowance should be about encouraging rather than penalising and stigmatising. The problem is that by creating a negative narrative around people who are unemployed and broadening that out, as the government are, and have done to people who are unwell (on ESA) and disabled by labelling people are ‘lazy scroungers’ the government is actively creating a more isolated section of society for the readers of the Daily Mail to scoff at. Until they lose their own jobs. Or are cursed with ill health such that they are not able to work.

I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong in wanting to reform the benefit system but encouragement to work has to be more whole-hearted and resting the blame of a recession on those who lose their own jobs seems to me, more ‘sinful’ than turning down a job that isn’t suited to a particular unemployed individual’s skill set.

But as an agnostic , I’m particularly poorly placed to make a judgement on sin. I don’t want my government to do it for me.