Monday, July 21, 2008

To ease the pain of idleness

The government girds its loins for another bash at changing the benefits system. There's talk of making sure that those claiming job seekers' allowance are actually seeking jobs and that those claiming incapacity benefit are actually incapable. It seems to be widely accepted among the political classes that since the carrot hasn't worked in reducing the number of people who are dependent on benefits then a little bit of stick might have to be tried.

I fear it won't actually work, not because it's wrong-headed but because there is nothing more draining than compelling the unwilling. I occasionally see some kids half-heartedly picking up litter on a roundabout or scraping graffiti from the park gates, presumably on some kind of punitive community service project. The person I feel most sorry for is the individual charged with supervising them. That person must be working twice as hard as any of us and for very little reward, financial or otherwise. Any teacher will tell you that the most difficult class to teach is neither the brightest one nor the thickest one. It's the one that is prepared to put most of its energies into avoiding doing anything.

Most people want to be active. They don't work just for money but for self-respect, companionship, stimulation or just getting out of the house. They would probably agree with the old biblical idea that idleness is a curse. They associate with people who are like them and probably have nothing to do with the others. "Forcing" people to work means somebody's got to do the forcing. Most of us would do anything rather than that.


  1. The other problem, of course, is that there's only a limited number of community-based things that untrained can be compelled to do - there seems a lot of litter to be picked and roadsigns to be scrubbed clean of litter, until you actually have hundreds of thousands of people doing so. I had a friend whose partner was given a community service sentence a few years back and there was literally nothing for his group to do - they were marched round and round a football pitch for seven hours instead.

    The work that needs to be done - care work, restoring public buildings, and so on - isn't the sort of job you can just force people to do.

    More seriously, if you're caught in a struggle to re-enter work, how are you meant to concentrate on your jobsearch if you're out breaking rocks in the sun during daylight hours?

  2. Erm... scrubbed clean of graffiti. Not litter.

  3. I have ulcerative colitis. Most of the time I am okay, but I also have weeks when I am genuinely incapacitated and in a considerable amount of pain. An accompanying autoimmune condition looks set to further deteriorate my health to a level at which I will effectively be disabled, although not in the obvious sense of being unable to walk or see. In summary I am shaping-up to be just the kind of benefit-scrounging malingerer that this new legislation has been set up to deal with.

    Having chronic health problems makes it hard to get a job. First of all it limits the kind of work you can do. My experience has been that, regardless of anti-discrimination legislation, employers will chose a fit and healthy person over someone who is in questionable health. No one wants to employ an individual who is going to be a liability from day one.

    This unsubtle, scattergun approach to dealing with the long-term unemployed is going to effect a lot of people who are genuinely unwell, press-ganging them into what are effectively non-minimum wage jobs that may be unsuitable for them and will exacerbate their illnesses.

  4. I totally agree with Backwards7 here.

    Rather than attacking the problem of those who are unwilling to work (and even the most liberal of us must agree that there are a good deal of people who are unwilling to work) the Government have taken the attitude that everyone is a work shy fop unless they can prove otherwise.

    As a disabled person (who has been employed for 25 years since leaving education) it angers me that genuiningly disabled people will have to prove, probably to a complete stranger, who has no understanding of their condition, that their condition is severe enough to stop them working.

    It goes further than that though. The Ministerial apologist who was set before the press today was banging on about jobs being available and that it was the duty of everyone to work. I don't disagree in theory. In practice it doesn't quite work like that.

    The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 makes it illegal for anyone to discriminate against someone on the grounds of impairment. an employer has to make reasonable adjustment to premise, working conditions and equipment to allow a disabled person to work for them. However it doesn't always go to plan.

    I work in the public sector and as a governmemt department you'd think that disabled people would be treated with respect and dignity. Not always so I'm afraid. I know of colleagues who have waited YEARS for software for computers, or have been threatened with dismissal because sick records are poor. In my view if disabled people who are genuinely unable to work are forced into employment, many in completely unsuitable jobs for their impairments we are going to find a lot of causualities.

    What is needed is a proper system for finding suitable jobs for disabled people who can work, with a decent support system in place to ensure that their needs are met. On the other hand we need a proper benefits system that actually supports those who are unable to work and a Government who doesn't treat them as something you might find under your shoe.

    Of course we do need to take benefit frauds and the work shy but not at the expense of those who are genuinely incapacitated.

  5. There are two types of action, action with meaning and action without meaning. Choice is important in life.