Promotion to prison

Cameron:

If you can work and if you’re offered a job and you don’t take it, you cannot continue to claim benefits. It will be extremely tough.

This statement has a partner. David could have gone on to say:

If you’re able to hire, and if you define a role for someone and you don’t offer minimally decent wages and conditions, you cannot expect to prosper through recruitment. It will be extremely tough.

State benefits aren’t just a signal to workers, they also send a message to employers: treat your people at least as well as this, or they’ll tend to prefer living on benefits. It shouldn’t always be the case that you’re better off working: in fact, one way to guarantee that work makes a person better off involves putting slackers in jail. It’s been tried.* For those who don’t want that sort of country (or something closer to it than we currently are) discussion of benefits can’t just be about the unemployed. More balance in the rhetoric please, Tories, or we’ll assume you don’t understand this.

* If you think that coming up with an actual example involves confirming Godwin’s Law, well, you’d be wrong. Apparently the Swiss had an arbeitsscheu policy of their own up until the early 1980s.

16 thoughts on “Promotion to prison

  1. A job cannot be paid better than its productivity allows at least in average. Citizens demand decent wages but are not ready to buy goods or services priced so that decent wages can be paid.

    If employers are to blame, profits must have gone way up. Have they?

  2. I used to work at a welfare office in Florida back in the early days of welfare reform. The reform required afdc recipients to register with the department of labor and to seek work while getting benefits. As it turned out, at least half of my clients got rejected from the department of labor as being too mentally or physically disabled to hold a job. Most of them qualified for SSI, and became the federal government’s problem.

  3. The Cameron quote that puzzled me from the Marr show is this one:

    “But on the other hand let us look at the issue of dependency where we have trapped people in poverty through the extent of welfare that they have.”

    Does he really mean benefits are a trap in poverty? I thought it was quite an astonishing statement, which hints that he believes benefits are bad except in extremely limited cases. He even sort of paused just before the end, like he realized he shouldn’t have said that.

  4. Marcos
    Poor people in the UK who take up work are “taxed” at rates as high as 97%.
    There have been documented cases where people got a job and were less than a pound a day better off.
    Considerably less than the cost of their bus fare to and from work.

    If people get a job, their disposable income goes down. Thats a serious problem.
    Surely you cant disagree?

    “A job cannot be paid better than its productivity allows at least in average.”
    Indeed.
    Even just the direct costs of Labour are in excess of £8 an hours in the UK now.
    Thats before you look at the cost of defending yourself at an employment tribunal because you rejected a man with no qualifications who applied for the finance directors job and he’s accusing you of racism.

  5. Yes, managers are paid better. That is a separate, possibly related issue. And shares go up. But do dividends go up? If not, in a way, the return on shares goes down, not up.

    Do we really see the share of GNP of business returns going up?

  6. @ Dominicj

    I see that point. I presume I am being a bit thick, but to me when he says “the extent of the benefits” he is implying that they are too large. If they are too large, how can then it be considered they are “trapped in poverty”.

    It looks like my problem is with what he is not saying.

    I a recessionary economy I can see how people are stuck in benefits. Hopefully most should become unstuck once the economy picks up. That is what the benefits (automatic stabilizers some would argue) are for, although obviously not all benefits, like child allowance.

    Otherwise if he is talking about some niche problem, then he should rather be clear and not make it look like a problem of overindulgent benefits in general.

  7. Benefits are necessarily below the median wage. Using the relative definition of “poor”, anybody on minimum benefits is poor by necessity. That doesn’t mean he is poorer than people earning low wages.

    Which means that he has no economic incentive to get a low paying job. And realistically somebody on benefits for a long time is unlikely to get a highly paid job.

    If you want to avoid that you have two economic options

    a – lower benefits drastically
    b – subsidize low wages

    If you can do neither you’ll have to use extra economic means to make people work. And exactly that is being proposed.

  8. Marcos, yes, there’s something funny about Cameron’s rhetoric there. But then, it’s a problem area for any politician.

    Let’s say Cameron is using ‘poverty’ to mean something like ‘a situation where people oughtn’t to be comfortable; if they are comfortable, then their standards are too low’.

    Of course, if Cameron switches to a sense of ‘poverty’ that involves a quantification (‘half of the median wage’, or something like that) then he risks having to concede that a lot of low paid jobs afford only poverty conditions. And that’d be awkward, since Cameron also wants to say that any job is better than no job. Really, the only way out in rightist rhetoric is via the stepping stone metaphor: ‘you’re poor now, yes, but your lousy job is just a starter job; eventually you’ll be rich’. Of course, this disregards whole swathes of actual life outcomes, as actually lived, by actual people.

    So let’s say he sticks with the first definition: ‘poverty’ is a condition with which people ought not to be satisfied. But of course, the proposal is to make that condition materially worse for at least some people by cutting benefits. Let’s say some of those people then quit benefits in favour of low paid jobs. “Look”, says Cameron, “it’s working: attitudes are changing”. Except that this isn’t a safe claim; what’s changed is policy, and people are adapting to it.

    I don’t know. Supposedly this is an anti-authoritarian government. Attempting to change people’s attitudes looks pretty authoritarian to me, if that is indeed what they’re about. And talk of a ‘benefits trap’ seems massively presumptuous: I suggest not using the phrase at all.

  9. If you can do neither you’ll have to use extra economic means to make people work. And exactly that is being proposed.

    ‘Extra-economic means’ are not the only thing on the table; the coalition has said that it plans to end people’s entitlement entirely if certain conditions (which they define) are met. That’s economic means.

  10. Charlie,

    Thanks for that, much better articulated than my rambling. But it does sum up my thoughts.

    Problem area for politicians indeed.

  11. I wonder why the worker is not supposed to build his work
    ,its own job, if he is unhappy with “conditions”.
    Is it because in Social Democrat/Labour world the worker has different blood color than bosses?

    Let me guess also, the overregulation of Economy is also a ploy from Social Democrats, Labour and Conservatives all united by different proposes to stifle any mobility between workers and bosses…?

  12. Marcos
    Benefits are enough to get by on, in most cases, they’re more than you would get from a low paying job.
    But thats it.
    Forever.

    You cant climb the benfits chain, there isnt one, and you are denied access to the employment chain, because for the first 5 years of employment, you’re poorer than you would be if you didnt work.

    People SHOULD become unstuck, but they dont.

    I’m not sure what its like where you’re from, but in the UK, there are families where the last time someone had a job was when they were conscripted.
    People my age have never had a job, their fathers have never had a job and their grandfathers have never had a job.
    If any of them gets a job, in the medium term, they’re poorer, even if in the long term, they’re better off.

    Thats the poverty trap, its giving the people sat in the mud a blanket, but taking away the ladder.

    Cameron is saying he will change the rules so that people taking jobs will have more money, not less, so it will be in your short term interests to get a job, in which you can gain experience and training, and eventualy you will be able to get a good job and be “well off”.

  13. This is horribly flawed for one very simple reason.

    State benefits are paid out without any sort of labour required from the recipient whereas employment will require some sort of work, be it physical, mental, whatever.

    Therefore, if a person values time over a higher pay, they will choose to accept state benefits.

    Put simply, not everybody wants to make as much money as they can, and for this precise reason if you wish to claim that “it shouldn’t always be the case that working pays more” then this argument is entirely self-defeating as what you are advocating is a sort of unofficial minimum wage, in which case, what’s the point of the OFFICIAL minimum wage?

  14. State benefits are paid out without any sort of labour required from the recipient

    That is the current practice. It could be changed in effect turning the state into the employer of last resort.

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