Tuesday, 15 November 2011

State Employment for the long term unemployed? Yes, please Mr Cameron

Don't be surprised: the socialist in me is naturally delighted to hear that David Cameron is considering offering state employment to those who have been unable to find work. That is, in effect, what is being advocated, yes? Well, seeing as it's being advocated by a Conservative Prime Minister I should maybe hold my enthusiasm back and wait for the devil in the detail. Until that comes, however, let's have a completely hypothetical run down of why any such scheme is almost, always doomed to failure in the UK when proposed by a conservative government.

1. Minimum Wage

The absolute surest reason why any such scheme is doomed to fail. Whilst it may be a long held fantasy for many Tories to scrap the minimum wage, the reality is they don't have the political will or courage to try because they know that even if they did, they would fail. You can't very well bleat on about the Unions having to much power if you also think you can take on every single Union, at the same time, united on one issue, and win. So, minimum wage exists and will continue to do so. The only option for the government is to make sure that any work undertaken on a compulsory scheme is paid at the minimum wage but that would be a little bit, well, socialist for a conservative government. It is, for all intents and purposes, mass state employment - an even larger public sector. Not really the objective I imagine.

2. Compulsory Aspect

A fantastically ridiculous introduction to the proposed scheme from the Daily Mail: "under new plans, long term jobless would be forced to undertake voluntary work." I know standards of journalism aren't the highest at that particular newspaper but even a child knows that if you force someone to do something, it isn't voluntary. It highlights though, what problems the government will face with it's proposals. No government in it's right mind will want to use the term 'forced labour' but that is, in effect, what it is. If you don't work, you lose your only source of income. Ideologically, I actually don't have an issue with this provided that the work is reasonable and the pay fair. However, for this to be a Conservative success, it won't be - the right wing public won't tolerate it.

3. Cost

A socialist can make this scheme cost effective. A conservative can not. That's not a claim based on my own bias but a reflection of the facts. The two different perspectives measure success differently - the socialist looks at the value to society, the individual, the state as a whole - the conservative will look at the cost to the exchequer primarily and the cost to society secondary but it will boil down to cost and not value.  So for this scheme to be a conservative success it would have to save money. Being good for society is not a good enough measure. The problem is - it will cost money. The added administration burden alone would be massive and that's pretty much undisputed. The only way this works out financially is if the work undertaken is essential and would have to be done anyway. Of course that presents another problem - if the work is essential then a real job, and not a made up one, exists and should be filled properly.

4. If the job needs doing, someone should be employed to do it.

No matter how you look at it, people on this scheme will be engaged in non essential work. It has to be non essential because unemployment levels are rising which means all essential roles have been filled and all non essential roles have been cut. That's the line we have been fed from the government when questioned on cuts. So why make some people redundant from 'non essential' roles only to have others 'forced' into them? presumably those being made redundant by the state have certain skills, attributes and knowledge that makes them suitable for the role and those who will have to pick up the slack will be untrained, poorly paid and even more poorly motivated.

This idea has not been thought through at all. How can it have been when such staggeringly obvious obstacles seem not to have been addressed before the idea was floated to the media? Obviously, people will disagree with me and dispute, dismiss or even ridicule the points I've made but these points will be made by many others, in real and serious positions of opposition should such the government run with the idea. I repeat: I'm all for the state offering employment to the long term unemployed. But, if you're going to bring in a scheme dripping in socialist principle, at least get a socialist to draft it.

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