Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pay the People (2)

The Reverend Paul Nicolson, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust, Professor Peter Townsend, London School of Economics, and Professor Guy Standing of Bath wrote to The Guradian in response to journalist Polly Toynbee’s proposed government guaranteed job scheme. All had better ideas for the economy than the government has so far conjured, especially the insanity of rewarding the original crooks—the bankers. A policy of special assistance for the unemployed is desirable for reasons of compassion and civil obedience. The Labour government’s policy has been to cut benefit costs by introducing coercive work conditions of entitlement, echoing the 1834 Poor Law Act. The unemployment benefit of the newly unemployed is a workhouse rate of £60.50 a week. Ministers told Julie Jones MP that increasing it in the welfare reform bill would undermine what the benefits system and the welfare state are there for. Blair and Brown, in their 12 years, have ignored the fact that millions in the population are unable to obtain a working wage or can only work part time—children, students, adults obliged to provide personal care, many disabled people, the elderly, mentally ill, and the many simple people (Labour ministers seem not to know that half the population have an IQ below 100!)—and so cannot match the earnings of the able bodied. All deserve a decent compensation income for their personal wellbeing—so they can enjoy family and social activities and a decent quality of life—but also because the economy requires everyone to have spending money. Spending is what keeps the economic wheels turning. Labour ministers, and maybe Labour activists, if there still are any, should re-read the 1942 Beveridge report, which recommended that the benefit scheme should unite administrative responsibility and adequacy—social security was meant to make want unnecessary under any circumstances. Sixty years on its administration is spallated among many agencies, the only possible reason being to make it more difficult to claim, especially for those who are less than 100% sound, physically and mentally. Professor Standing says only a minority of the unemployed now receive unemployment benefits so they do not act as the automatic economic stabiliser some economists still treat them as. The government should give every adult an unconditional grant—say £25 a week—adjusted according to the state of the economy. It would boost demand and therefore real jobs, would be transparent, fair, non-stigmatising and easy to implement. Moreover, it would provide assistance to everyone suffering from the crisis, not just the favoured interests who caused it! And for those who do not need it, the wealthy, and the bankers, it would be clawed back and subsidized through their tax. It would also supplement the income of those on involuntary part time working, enable more of the unemployed to take part-time jobs without suffering a totally inadequate income, and give the unemployed a top-up over the present starvation allowance. Being unconditional and not means tested, it would avoid this government’s obsession with coercing people.

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