Whereas in fact we’d be better off just giving them their dole and leaving them alone.
Since full employment was killed by the double whammy of industrial automation and female emancipation, there has been a permanent base level of unemployment. There are now more people than jobs, and there always will be.
So, what do we do with those spare people? A few of them are perfectly capable of living on 40 or 50 quid a week and don’t need hopes of a richer future to make them happy or a job to give them a sense of worth. Many of these will be avoiding work, so the benefit office staff are fighting an uphill battle to make them look for a job.
Meanwhile those genuinely struggling to find employment, who really do need help in training or appraising their skills or whatever, have less resources devoted to them.
Insisting that all those without a job play this game of musical chairs for the few positions available is plain stupid. Why not ask those on the dole if they’re happy with their circumstances? If they answer yes, issue an automatic cheque and leave them alone. The administrative costs would plummet, and resources could be redirected.
Admission that full employment is never going to happen again is acceptance of bald fact. So we should adjust our welfare programmes accordingly. Forcing help on to those who don’t want it is an exercise in futility; doing it at the expense of those who really do want help is an exercise in cruelty.
But why should I pay taxes for people to do nothing? For the same reason that I pay taxes for maternity wards and schools despite being a non-parent; the same reason I want to subsidise transport and care for elderly and disabled people despite being neither. We want to live in a society where people have the basics of life as a guarantee.
Even those who have a work ethic must concede there aren’t enough jobs to allow everyone to pay their way from their own wages. So, do we give the people at the bottom those basics, or do we let them starve?
If the starvation option doesn’t make you squeamish, then think of it as insurance. If you create lives without enough to support themselves, they come and steal from those who have more.
Rather like the way the NHS, as well as being kind to the patient, solves many social problems, so we should provide other necessities to people as part of broader and partly selfish interests.
This leads us towards the concept of a Citizens Income. I first found this via the Green Party.
They saw that we give out Child Benefit automatically. Every child’s parents or guardians receive it, irrespective of their means. It may seem daft giving millionaires money for their children, but not only does it give all of society a feeling of guaranteed security for children, it is actually quite cost-effective. The administrative costs of means-testing it could well outweigh any savings made doing so.
By the same token, if we just gave out Citizens Income – a basic payment to cover the essentials of life, effectively Dole For All, for every citizen – we’d remove the enormous administrative costs of unemployment (including paying to chase people who don’t want jobs).
It would replace means-tested benefits like Job Seekers Allowance, Sickness Benefit and Income Support as well as non-means tested ones like Child Benefit and the State Pension. It removes the poverty trap of making people poor as they step out of the benefit system. A Citizens Income must be feasible as long as the total wealth circulating in the economy is greater than the cost of providing everyone with basic needs.
Far-fetched and far-out it may seem. But then, the impossible cost was the most persuasive point of the nation’s doctors who took a fervently anti-NHS stance prior to 1945. Before that, it was levelled against the idea of free education for all.
A Citizens Income is a logical step on from those advances in social justice. It follows in our tradition of opening up opportunity to all irrespective of their background, of trying to set a humane basic level of existence for everyone. The Tory years gave the idea a severe beating, sure, but the principle is too deeply rooted to be so swiftly undone. There are too many of us who know for ourselves the benefits of universal education and the welfare state. It’s time to take our position seriously as its upholders rather than just its beneficiaries. It’s not just to be preserved; it’s to be expanded.
Free education and the NHS liberated us, making us all much more able to find a life of real meaning, and society has seen not just the relief of suffering but positive benefits on an unforeseen scale.
Similarly, freeing us from the fear of unemployment can not just be an eradication of the bad aspects of the subject in hand, but also the path to new models of social structure. If we remove the need for work we will see more clearly its purpose.
It could make us square up to the spiritual hollowness and ecological apocalypse of consumerism, make us rediscover measurements of self worth that have been buried under two centuries of being treated like industrial components and create a society that feels more like people and less like competing rivals.