Sometimes, it's just a cigar

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Carrots and sticks

Jemima wrote beautifully this week about why she is tearing up her party card, and Ed Miliband’s latest piece of gratuitous, headline grabbing piece of stupidity. I did my best to confuse a smaller number of readers by comparing Ed to a cheeseburger rather than steak, but that’s par for the course, I’m afraid.

Let’s try and digest and make sense of Ed’s seemingly random announcement this week that benefits for young people would be reduced, made dependent upon their parental income if living at home, and made conditional upon compliance with a programme of education or training.

This comment in the Guardian today is apposite;

You can go in Weymouth and there are probably dozens of organisations who will help with your CV and pass you on,” she adds. “And that’s worth around £200 to that agency but has done nothing to tackle the root cause of why you can’t get a job.

“That duplication of services is a scandal. There’s so much money being made in passing these young people around but achieving nothing. You could rub out most of them and set up some services that actually see the job through with a young person.

Young people are not stupid.

They know that in an economy where two and a half million people are unemployed, and there are 500,000 vacancies, someone, approximately two million someones, are going to end up unemployed. In order to address the demand for labour we don’t need to train two and a half million people – the demand is for 500,000.

So who is Ed Miiband talking to in his policy announcement. The two million someones? Young people? Or some other constituency?

According to the press, the population of the UK, especially middle England, is permanently angry about scroungers, about people who take but don’t put back into society. The press are angry about it, TV stations make programmes of disputed accuracy about it, and Ed adds fuel to the flames by announcing that what’s required is not more demand for labour, but more sanctions upon those who are currently in the reserve army of labour, because the fault obviously lies in themselves, not in the labour market demand, that they are unemployed.

It is transparent, nakedly obvious bullshit.

Until current vacancies equals current unemployment, someone is always going to be unemployed. It really is as simple as that.

Ed’s future would be more secure if he spent more time explaining that, than in getting himself into a bizarre Dutch auction of sanctions on those who have been excluded from the labour market.

More than that though, even if Ed was right, and some people do self-exclude from the labour market, what’s the answer? Enforced training? Or a rigorous analysis of why they self exclude, of the messages they have been fed about why they are unemployed, and unemployable?

I hae no doubt that a small proportion of the long term unemployed are in that position because of behaviours that amount to self-harm, excluding themselves from the prospect of employment. I think some, perhaps many of them do so because they have learned that work is not an empowering experience, that work actually is a place where things get worse for them, not better. More sanctions are likely only to reinforce that belief. For such people, we need carrots, not sticks.

Of course, the constituency Ed is addressing is not the long term unemployed, or their children. He’s talking to mythical middle England, who think carrots should be reserved for the (self)righteous. Not one single person will be saved from unemployment by this approach, and Ed may find that winning the votes of the angry mob is harder, not easier, once you start to pander to them.

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This entry was posted on June 22, 2014 by in Uncategorized.

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