Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Zelig Purnell takes on the scroungers

The 1834 Poor Law Amendment act, which introduced workhouses across the country, was based on the principle of “less eligibility”. The idea was simple: if conditions inside the workhouse were superior to those outside, then hordes of scroungers and benefit cheats (as we might say today) would flood to the workhouse. The solution was equally simple: to make conditions inside the workhouse so brutish than only those in absolute desperation would turn there for help. This is not a million miles from the animating principles behind James Purnell’s proposed welfare reforms which are designed to make life so bloody miserable for the unemployed (by cutting benefits, by sentencing them to a penal spell of community service, and so on) that they will agree to take any McJob however awful. As the economy dips into recession - and presumably unemployment will rise as a consequence – Purnell has decided that this is the time to “bash the unemployed”. Of course, he oozes talk of “helping” the unemployed, of “encouraging” them back to work. As so often, the Financial Times tells it like it is. No nonsense about “helping” or “encouraging”. Instead, it reports: “Benefits plan to force jobless to work”. And that’s it. If you don’t take this job shovelling poo for a farthing a month then your benefits will be cut. Some of this is to be contracted out to the private sector – ah, the solution to all problems under the sun - and they are to be allowed to keep as profits part of the benefits savings. The Financial Times reports concerns that this will lead to “cherry picking” and one can only imagine the bullying to which it will also lead. By coincidence, yesterdays Guardian carried a report from Glasgow’s Easterhouse estate. Life expectancy is 5 years below the Scottish average, the rate of low-birth-weight babies is 62% above the Scottish average, and there is 25% unemployment. Here’s a solution: put the 25% unemployed in orange jump suits (with a suitable insignia on them, a giant “U” for “unemployed” perhaps), make them wander around the estate picking up litter, under the watchful gaze of some creepy guy with dark sun-glasses and a shotgun, and pay a private company zillions to organise the scheme. I must be honest. It’s Purnell that gets me. Nye and Ernie knew something about “their people”, even if one was on the Labour left (sort of) and one was (by the standards of that time) on the Labour right. But looking at Purnell, shiny suit and shiny shoes, public school written all over him, smug smirk, all café litte and sun-dried tomatoes – it is just so puke-making. I hope in Glasgow East they vote for the party with some social-democratic principles, i.e. the Scottish National Party. The fact is that there already is a large disincentive to voluntary unemployment and that is the very low level of benefits. No one in their right mind who is able to get a reasonably paid job would choose to be unemployed. That is why all these schemes – it isn’t as if we haven’t been here before – produce such paltry results, at such high cost. But, hey, they produce some good headlines in The Sun and Mail.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Purnell is vile, isn't he? Is he THE most right-wing New Labour MP? My money is one Purnell, but I think Liam Byrne pushes him very, very close. What do you think?

3:07 pm  
Blogger Politaholic said...

The most right-wing New Labour MP? Bloody hell, that's a tough field in which to compete.

9:31 am  

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