The Conservative Party Conference passed in typical right-wing fashion with talk of tougher welfare cuts and privatisation, and tax cuts for big business. However, one particularly nasty proposition made by David Cameron in his closing speech has caught the attention of many. This is the pledge that if the Conservatives are elected to government in the next general election they will seek to pass legislation meaning that those under 25 would lose their right to access Jobseeker’s Allowance and Housing Benefit if they are not in work, education or training (NEETs). The Tories are dressing this up as a workable solution for the high level of youth unemployment, arguing that they want an end to a generation of young people who apparently claim dole as a lifestyle choice. The patronising phrase Cameron used was “nagging” the long term unemployed back to work, telling us that that young people need to “earn or learn”.
Obviously the Tories’ analysis doesn’t match the reality of life for the 1.09 million NEETs by any stretch of the imagination, with up to 20 people chasing every vacancy in certain parts of the UK according to research published by Unison, it is clear that these jobs are just not there. Since 2010 the Tories have worked hard to ensure that further and higher education is an unaffordable option for many young people. They have made significant cuts to the education budget, raised the cap on tuition fees to a staggering £9000 and abolished the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) which provided regular financial support to students from lower income families who wished to continue their studies after secondary school.
Over the last few years they have closed dozens of Remploy factories which provided long term employment for people with disabilities, knowing that many of the thousands who are made redundant will find it difficult to compete for mainstream employment, particularly now as jobs are hard to find.
The Tories also brought in workfare, forcing those that receive benefits to do unpaid work or risk losing their benefits and at the same time the government can count those on these schemes as “employed” in government statistics. This unpaid work is often for private companies, whose profits benefit from free labour at the expense of the taxpayer, as the government continues to pay the benefits. Not surprisingly, research has revealed that workfare has been replacing paid employment. Many on workfare placements have been recruited over Christmas, meaning that these companies have not offered their permanent staff any paid over time or hired more workers, and in some cases have sent paid staff home early. Workfare isn’t small scale either, as tens of thousands of these forced unpaid work schemes are being rolled out across the country, and the number is expected to increase. With up to half a million jobs to be axed from the public sector, it is clear that some of these jobs will be replaced by workfare placements as outlined in the guidelines of the Community Action Programme. We have already seen workfare programmes being used in the NHS.
It is clear that these opportunities are not available to young people, and that this government has actively created policies that have undermined the youth’s ability to access education and training, but there is also human cost to people who are long term unemployed through no fault of their own. According to research published on NEETs by UCU earlier this summer;
- Nine out of ten aspire to be in work, education or training, but a third feel that they have no chance of ever getting a job.
- 37% rarely leave the house, 40% feel they are not part of society, 33% have suffered depression and 15% have a mental health condition.
- 71% say that with the right kind of support they could “contribute a lot to this country” but want help boosting their confidence and better information and advice about their options
As UCU rightly says, these results are heartbreaking. It is clear that unlike Cameron’s simplistic and condescending analysis, these people have not made claiming dole a way of life, but are effectively being removed and alienated from our society, criminalised, and forced to degrade themselves by doing the jobs of other workers for free in order to survive. Rather than being told to apply for jobs that aren’t there, the unemployed deserve a government which is committed to providing decent and rewarding jobs, affordable housing and a good standard of education.
In his speech Cameron advised us that no-one should paint his ideas as callous. But they are callous, because he is a callous man who represents the interests of the big business rather than ordinary people. Together with his cabinet of millionaires he is seeking to use this crisis of capitalism as an excuse to extract any money they can from the toiling masses and the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, in order to shore up the profits of the super rich. The Tories and their anti-worker policies should not be allowed to divide people, and should be resisted at all costs, by those in employment and the unemployed alike.