Why isn’t Labour shouting from the roof-tops against the blatant injustice of forcing people to work for nothing, under threat of losing benefits if they don’t, when the jobs are simply not available, largley because of the government’s own policies? There are currently about 400,000 vacancies, but 2.65m unemployed, so with 6 people chasing every job on average, 5 can’t succeed whatever they do.
Yet already the government has stipulated under its mandatory work programme that the jobless must accept an unpaid work placement for a month to keep their benefits, and now it’s being proposed that they must actually work for 6 months unpaid in order not to forfeit their benefits.
Reducing the young jobless to the category of slave labour still isn’t going to find them jobs if the economy is still contracting. That is confirmed by the welfare-to-work privateers who reported last week that less than a quarter of those attending the work programme for 6 months had found a job. Indeed the government’s work programme is going backwards as the number of claimants coming off benefits has halved in the last year, pushing up DWP’s spending on jobseeker’s allowance and housing benefit by no less than £9bn compared with the year before.
With the number of youth unemployed still stuck at over 1 million and the long-term unemployed (jobless for over a year) still at the 16-year high of 887,000, it is insane to pretend that docking benefits in the absence of jobs will somehow reduce these appallingly high figures. So why is the Labour Party not demanding (1) that the government should put its money (levied by capital gains tax on the last 3 years’ gains of the ultra-rich) where its mouth is and invest in creating the jobs that will alone get the youth unemployed into work? and (2) that forcing young people to work for nothing when no jobs are available on the open market is akin to a third world tyranny?
Labour’s opposition to the original IDS bill was so compromised that it didn’t even vote against the second reading in the Commons, and the assumption was drawn that Liam Byrne actually was in agreement with Iain Duncan Smith over the general thrust of the bill. That reputation will remain toxic until Labour makes clear that the youth unemployed are being viciously victimised for matters beyond their control and that the whole responsibility for this social disaster lies squarely with the government’s own economic (or lack of economic) policy.