Is there an underclass of welfare dependents?

One question that always surfaces in my mind when the words “welfare reform” are used: “Where are all the jobs going to come from?”

Presumably, there will be new jobs created in the private companies which will be allowed to run services currently provided by Job Centre staff. Which might allow some sacked Job Centre workers to effectively get their job back – on lower pay.

But where are all these jobs going to come from – the ones that the sick and long-term unemployed are to be trained for?

Is the government planning some kind of new green deal which will create millions of jobs in manufacturing and agriculture? I doubt it, they can barely even get the banks to lend money to small businesses, never mind fund an expansion of the economy…

Which leads me to believe that the “real deal” with these welfare reforms is to redirect the beneficiaries of the welfare state from workers, pensioners, the sick and the unemployed, to big businesses.

Benefit claimants – and indeed, all of us – should recieve a basic Citizens’ Income in place of other welfare payments.

We should not demonise the unemployed, but the capitalist system which is throwing people onto the dole and out of their homes.

No doubt New Labour’s plans will be passed into law – a backbench rebellion meaning it will go through with Tory support. Given that the labour movement has united against these reactionary proposals, there should be deep questioning of why trade union money is still funding New Labour. If the labour movement wants to see Tory policies implemented, why not fund the Tory party?

Read this article, dispelling myths about the “something for nothing” culture, from Socialist Worker:

Labour’s nasty attacks on benefit claimants
by Siân Ruddick

Labour and Tory politicians have been falling over each other to prove that they are the toughest on those who claim welfare benefits.

Work and pensions secretary James Purnell was to unveil a raft of draconian new plans in the Welfare Reform White Paper on Wednesday – details of which were flagged up in last week’s Queen’s Speech.

From lone parents to people suffering from long term illness, the government proposes to cut access to financial support and use increasingly punitive measures to force people into work.

New legislation will include a harsh sanctions regime for those claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) payments.

This will include cash penalties for those who miss appointments or fail to adhere to “contracts” detailing training and other steps to prepare for work.

Harder

The new raft of “welfare reforms” follow recent similar attacks on incapacity benefit claimants that were also designed to make benefits harder to claim and to push more people into work.

Purnell has said that lone parents with children as young as one may be forced to look for work or training and report to a job centre every fortnight.

Quite apart from the attacks on parents’ choices and quality of life, the government doesn’t offer free nursery places until the age of three – so most lone parents would be forced to find costly private childcare just to be able to look for work.

And it’s not just parents who will be on the receiving end. The majority of disabled people would be required to actively seek or prepare for work before receiving benefits.

In a nasty attack that panders to the worst elements of the tabloid press, the government says it will roll out lie detector tests at job centres across Britain.

This will feed the myth that people claiming benefits are intrinsically untrustworthy or dishonest.

Some 25 councils already use such tests in relation to assessing housing benefit claims.

The continuing demonisation of people on benefits has become a hallmark of New Labour policy. Headed up by Purnell, “welfare reform” has become a stick to beat and frighten people with.

Both Labour and Tories say they want to stop a “something for nothing” culture of welfare dependency.

Disposable

But life on state benefits is far from a holiday. On average, over 25 year olds get about £60 per week. This is not disposable income – it is supposed to cover all utility and food bills, as well as money for clothing and household goods.

The government is demanding that people should try harder to get a job.

But with unemployment rising, people with years of experience in skilled jobs are joining the dole queues. In most job centres decent long- term jobs are hard to come by.

The government’s plans will be delivered by expanding the role of private companies contracts.

It is likely to award contracts on the basis of meeting targets for getting people off benefits – increasing the pressure on “advisers” from private firms to push people into work or training, even where it is unsuitable.

Benefits are a vital part of the welfare state. We should defend the idea of a collective responsibility for ensuring people’s welfare.

At a time of economic crisis these arguments can become sharper. We must resist the scapegoating of those in receipt of benefits.

Is there an underclass of welfare dependents?
The conviction of Karen Matthews for kidnapping her daughter, Shannon, has led politicians and the media to denounce the supposed “underclass” of benefit claimants that exists in Britain.

According to the Sunday Times, the case has demonstrated “the perverse consequences of the welfare system”.

Predictably, the Sun went further: “Vile Karen Matthews is a product of the sink-estate underclass of chaotic families that loaf away their days on easy welfare benefits.”

These assertions have helped to fuel a picture of council estates filled with work-shy layabouts who refuse to “integrate” into respectable society.

In reality there is no such thing as an “underclass”. The idea that there are whole streets and communities in Britain where no one works is a myth.

Even on Karen Matthews’s street in Dewsbury – now held up as the classic sink estate – the Guardian found this week that almost every household had someone in work.

Areas where poverty is common do of course exist, but repeated studies have shown that poverty is a threat across the working class.

Many of those in poverty are families surviving on minimum wage or low paid jobs with little to show for it at the end of the month.

A 2002 report called Poverty and the Welfare State: Dispelling the Myths, by social policy expert Paul Spicker, attacked the notion of an underclass and took Labour to task for its attacks on “welfare dependency”.

The report found that although certain groups – such as young people, those out of work, or pensioners – are the most likely to be poor, no group “is immune to poverty”.

Throughout the 1990s some 60 percent of the population spent at least one year in the bottom 30 percent of income distribution.

Spicker concluded, “Poverty is not the moral, cultural or social problem of a permanently excluded underclass, but an economic risk that affects everyone.”

So for those truly concerned about the sort of society children are growing up in, the urgent question should be how to address the scandal of poverty.

The concept of some sort of “underclass” conjures Victorian-era notions of the “undeserving poor”.

These ideas inform much of New Labour’s “reforms” including its approach to welfare, crime and education.

The Tories refuse to be outdone by New Labour and have proposed that benefit claimants should have to disclose their family history.

Those whose parents and immediate family have been on benefits “long term” will be scrutinised, including their child’s performance in school.

The demonisation of those who receive benefits does nothing to address the real problem of poverty.

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