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For a Real Jobs Guarantee

Unemployment is caused by a lack of jobs. Obvious one would think, but yet this is a contested and controversial for many of our honourable members down in Westminsterland.

Received mainstream political wisdom has it that if you’re unfortunate enough to be out of work, it’s down to some quirk of your character. You’re too lazy, too indisciplined, too enamoured with a life on social security.

Or, for those who subscribe to a more bleeding heart view of unemployment, combinations of circumstance, lack of education or training, and poor/absent role models means one just isn’t cut out for the jobs market. Whichever way the bones fall on to the ground, you have different interpretations of the same message. Unemployment is an individual problem, an individual failing.Labour’s jobs guarantee for the long-term unemployed is a partial break from the orthodoxy. It is a break in that by placing the government as the employment guarantor of last resort it implicitly recognises that the hidden hand of the market is structurally incapable of providing jobs for all. But it is only partial because the nature of the jobs offered are, well, not really jobs.

Take this piece on the Prospect blog by Spencer Thompson of IPPR, for example. Spencer makes the very sensible point that the government’s current ‘wage incentive’ scheme (whereby the wages of new hires are part-subsidised by the tax payer to encourage job creation) is hardly making inroads to the long-term young unemployed as the most “employable” – i.e. the best educated – are far more likely to be taken on than your veteran NEET. In fact, as this layer are the least likely to spend prolonged periods on the dole it is smoothing the passage back to work for those who were already best placed.

Instead,

we should adopt a job guarantee for young people, with an offer of work experience to all those out of work and on jobseeker’s allowance for a year or more. It should be paid at the minimum wage in order to allay the justified concern with earlier “workfare” schemes. But it should also be combined with sanctions, with an obligation on the young person to take up the offer or find an alternative. This would have an immediate impact on youth unemployment in the UK, as well as providing much-needed labour market experience for many of the hardest to reach unemployed.

When is a jobs guarantee not a jobs guarantee? When all that is on offer is work experience. The implicit assumption underlining Spencer’s argument is that long term unemployment stems from job market unsuitability.

Therefore what is required is to get the NEETS and others into minimum wage schemes under pain of sanction that can train them up to the kinds of worker employers might want to employ. Hence it is envisaged very much as a temporary patch.

Nowhere is there any realisation that jobs are in very short supply, and that training up loads of unemployed young people will not in and of itself ameliorate that situation (apart from the multiplier effects of hundreds of thousands on such schemes having more cash in their pockets).

Why do I suspect this or something very similar will not be a million miles away from Labour’s scheme? Because Ed Balls in his announcement said “Our Jobs Guarantee for adults will build on the model of the Future Jobs Fund with government working with the private and voluntary sectors to ensure there is a job paying the minimum wage for every long-term unemployed person.”

Tax-payer subsidised profits for Tesco? No thanks. An army of economic conscripts that will undermine the wages and conditions of current workers? Not a great idea.

I’m sorry, but this is not good enough. While there is much flesh to be put on the bone, the preview offered is tepid and will compound the insecurity many workers at the low wage end of the labour market already feel.

Tried and tested is the jolly old public works programmes – what’s wrong with that? Or why not be more ambitious and organise ‘jobs guarantee’ workers into state/local authority-owned businesses or cooperatives to address identified developmental needs? Or something else the weird and wonkyful could dream up?

Perhaps, just perhaps, the jobs guarantee might like to draw on the experience of trade unions to advise, lead and deliver such schemes. After all, they’re only the democratic representatives of working people.

The principle of a jobs guarantee is a good thing. It is a marker of the increasing differences between Labour and its opponents, and signals a further step away from neoliberalism’s policy straitjacket.

But it has to be worthwhile. It has to train people, give them something useful to do, restore a sense of self-respect and *not* undermine the existing workforce. It requires a real leap of political imagination as well as a not inconsiderable amount of courage. Is the labour movement up to it?

5 Comments

  1. Mark Wood says:

    Plenty of common sense in what you say.

    You are so right. We do not need to create non jobs in charity shops, we need to create structures that make people an asset. Bring back the skill training centres, remodel the work program and integrate it with the college system, and give people real skills and create opportunity for those skills to be employed.

    We also need to stop this madness of privatising jobs from the existing public sector. The money spent is being wasted and hidden away in offshore bank accounts.

    We need to have a massive house building program similar to the ones in the past, we did it before with the creation of the New Towns. Ensure that those involved have direct labour forces that are connected to work training schemes. Set up and fund alternative business training and help centres that can aid cooperatives and other types of self help groups that can bid for work in the cash we invest in new and much needed infrastructure investment.

    Like I said, we need common sense, people have it, but the system ignores it. Guess the main fight is to identify and fight the forces that sustain the present unsustainable system, the one which waste so much treasure and keeps so many of our people down.

  2. Syzygy says:

    We need a Jobs Guarantee such as described by Professor Bill Mitchell:

    http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=23887

    There are always real jobs that need doing and by gov’t paying a minimum living wage, employers will need to increase wages to lure workers away to work for them. Look after employment, and the economy will look after itself.

  3. John Hargrave says:

    We need to offer proper training opportunities to help the unemployed and particularly young people.
    These must be real skills that last a lifetime, we have already lost much of our Industry, time to stop the rot and make Britain Great again.

  4. The above article is utterly useless, as are the above comments. First, there is no reference to the numerous job guarantee schemes that have been implemented thru history: e.g. the WPA in the US in the 1930s. That was a VERY LARGE SCALE scheme. You’d think it was worth a mention.

    Plus it has lessons for us: I’ve studied it. I know.

    Second, the above article is very POLITICAL: e.g. the phrase, “The principle of a jobs guarantee is a good thing. It is a marker of the increasing differences between Labour and its opponents..”.

    Politics has little to do with it: the optimum JG scheme is whatever it is, regardless of whether we have a Labour or Tory government in power (particularly as there is so little difference between the two parties that they spend half their time desperately trying to find differences).

    The first JG scheme, far as I know, was put into effect 2,500 years ago by Periclese in Ancient Athens. The quality of debate on the subject has not improved one iota since that time. I.e. comments like the above assortment were being trotted out 30 years ago. Nothing changes. That’s mainly because large numbers of loudmouths (like the author of the above aritcle) see fit to pontificate on the subject without bothering to study it.

    I’m 100% certain that public debate on this issue in 30 years time will consist of exactly the same ill-informed stuff that we see in 2013.

  5. Robert says:

    Ralph Musgrave, ok give us an idea of how you would do it, I would be very very interested to know, and that’s not sarcasm.

    I’m disabled so I got caught up in Labour’s New Deal for the disabled the Pathways to work and the workfare, all of them from America but Labour removed anything which did not suit them leaving a mess.

    I have done twenty one different types of job training program’s and in the end realized the simple fact these training program’s offered very little an employer would want.

    I use to go because I enjoyed talking to the other people for a few hours, but the training was a waste of time .

    I really do think good training for people is needed sadly it cannot be done on the cheap and sadly it is.

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