An exciting new scheme called the workhouse

No-one, it seems, can resist joking about the welfare “reforms” announced in the Queen’s speech. It’s either laugh or cry – these “reforms” could impoverish the most vulnerable people in our society, but it is not the vulnerable that are the focus of the jesting. Rather it’s the absurd claims of government ministers.

Mark Steel has a characteristically ebullient collumn in the Indy:

Throughout these proposals is the insistence the cuts are part of an overall plan to help the jobless find work. Which is why it’s essential to insist, whenever they start on this track, that the reason unemployment is going up is because there’s a bloody recession, and not because people have suddenly become useless at finding work. It would be more honest if these interviewers at job centres called in the unemployed and said: “I’ve studied your records, and the main reason you seem unable to find work is you’re living through the start of a slump. So I’m sending you on a course that can teach you how to be in 1998, or if you prefer 1957, when you should be able to get a job as a bus conductor or chirpy coalman with no problems at all.”

They know these proposals will, at most, effect which people are unemployed, but make no difference to the total of unemployed. They might as well announce a plan to send a pack of rabid dogs after anyone claiming benefits, while insisting: “This scheme will assist claimants by forcing them up trees where they might be offered a job as a tree surgeon or ornithologist or member of the paparazzi.”

Paul Feldman is uncharacteristically sarcastic over at A World To Win:

At last the government is getting its priorities right! The poor are obviously the main problem in society, if not the cause of the economic crisis, and what they need is discipline and more discipline. My only surprise is that New Labour has not actually resorted to a reintroduction of the Poor Law. In Victorian England, when people scrounged and begged instead of working for a pittance they were sent to the workhouse. That soon sorted them out!

The rate work and pensions minister James Purnell is going, however, the workhouse could will be his next proposal. Yesterday he published a review prepared by the academic Paul Gregg that proposed that all lone parents with children as young as one ought to be required to make themselves ready for work. Only in July, he proposed that it should be a requirement for lone parents with children aged seven or above to seek work (it is estimated there are 600,000 lone parents with children aged under seven). At this rate, those with unborn children will soon be in the frame.

“Sanctions would only apply to those who refuse to take steps to be job-ready that have been jointly agreed with their personal advisers in jobcentres,” said a ministry official. From 2010 many of these advisers will be employed by the private sector or charities, as the privatisation of welfare continues apace in New Labour’s brave new world. Some of the charities now fear that mass unemployment will render their contracts useless. Have no pity for those who scrambled to help to implement the government’s agenda.

Purnell’s proposals have drawn a fierce reaction. John McDonnell MP described them as “New Labour’s reactionary flailings” and warned: “The pressure that will be placed on lone parents will have a direct impact on the care that they can provide to their children – and affordable childcare is still not sufficiently available.”


A coalition of trade union leaders and poverty campaigners has condemned the attacks on claimants and called on “the government to rethink its plans”. That is simply not going to happen. New Labour’s answer to the economic and financial crisis is to drive down conditions and wages to help get capitalism back on its feet again. If just one union leader recognised that fact and opened a campaign to defeat the government, it would be a step forward.