Merryn's Blog

Let's dump dole money and give everyone a part-time job

Instead of handing out the dole to those who won't work, we should guarantee everyone a state-sponsored part-time job at the minimum wage.

An interesting little article appeared in The Telegraph this weekend. It turns out that the majority of voters have a very low tolerance for the welfare state as it stands.

A YouGov survey on "fairness" found strong backing for some kind of welfare sanction scheme against those who are drug users or have criminal records; that a large majority think that child benefit should be capped after a family has three children; and that the state should "actively discourage" people from becoming single parents.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Become a smarter, better informed investor with MoneyWeek.

The poll also makes it clear that most people think that those who won't work at all should have their benefits cut 21% of people even said that if you won't work you should lose all your benefits. People also think that fairness is more about everyone getting what they deserve, rather then just getting the same as everyone else: only 26% said that "fairness is about equality."

But most interestingly of all, the poll found that 80% of voters - an overwhelming majority - think that those who have been out of work for 12 months and are physically and mentally capable of working should do something for the community in return for benefits.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

The fact is that whatever the government might like to think the general population clearly believes, as the report with the poll puts it, that fairness is "strongly reciprocal". You shouldn't get "something for nothing". If you get you should give back "something for something".

Clearly the state has to strike a careful balance between promoting and allowing personal responsibility, and helping those in need. But given that feelings on this issue are so very strong, why don't we have a more 'conditional welfare system' in the UK? One where if you won't (not can't, but won't) make yourself available for work, you don't get all your benefit. And in particular, given that 80% of those polled favour one, why don't we have at least a gentle workfare system?

Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) comes to £67.50 a week in the UK. The minimum wage is £5.93 an hour. So surely it makes sense to ask those who are up to it to work in the community somehow for, say, 11 hours a week in exchange for JSA? We could even reframe the whole conversation so that we don't say we give out JSA anymore just that we guarantee everyone a state-sponsored part-time job at the minimum wage, until they find a better option.

This would have many benefits. It would seem fair to taxpayers. It would go some small way towards preventing one of the main problems the long-term unemployed have the fact that they are long-term unemployed and therefore unfamiliar with the way work works.

As Jackie Ashley pointed out in the Guardian last year "if people who are unemployed can be found socially useful community work to keep them busy while they are waiting for jobs during a period of very slow economic growth or perhaps no growth at all then that seems fair enough. Work is habit. Getting up in the morning and turning up at the right time is a routine people can easily fall out of, or never learn. The left should never champion a welfare system which does not expect self-discipline or effort."

Indeed it should not. It wouldn't be too onerous for anyone 11 hours a week still leaves three and a half working days a week to look for a real job so it is much less harsh than the 30-hour-a-week placements suggested by Ian Duncan Smith last year. And if managed properly it could produce huge benefits for more than just its participants. What if workfare provided free universal childcare, for example?

There's huge devil in the detail of all this (who arranges the work, who stops it from being all about picking up litter, what will it cost, should there be training, who is exempt and why, etc) but given the massive support for some kind of workfare across the political spectrum (even Ken Livingstone is into it), I can't understand why, the odd outbreak from Lord DigbyJones aside, it is so rarely discussed anymore.

Advertisement

Recommended

Visit/519858/how-long-can-the-good-times-roll
Economy

How long can the good times roll?

Despite all the doom and gloom that has dominated our headlines for most of 2019, Britain and most of the rest of the developing world is currently en…
19 Dec 2019
Visit/516758/beyond-the-brexit-talk-the-british-economy-isnt-doing-too-badly
Economy

Beyond the Brexit talk, the British economy isn’t doing too badly

The political Brexit pantomime aside, Britain is in pretty good shape. With near-record employment, strong wage growth and modest inflation, there is …
17 Oct 2019
Visit/economy/uk-economy/600837/rishi-sunak-new-chancellor-spending-splurge
UK Economy

Britain has a new chancellor – get ready for a major spending splurge

The departure of Sajid Javid as chancellor and the appointment of Rishi Sunak marks a change in the style of our politics. John Stepek explains what's…
14 Feb 2020
Visit/economy/uk-economy/brexit/600791/will-britain-close-its-doors-to-immigrants-post-brexit
Brexit

Will Britain close its doors to immigrants post-Brexit?

Details have not yet been forthcoming, but Britain will soon have a new immigration policy. What will that mean for businesses and investors?
8 Feb 2020

Most Popular

Visit/economy/uk-economy/600837/rishi-sunak-new-chancellor-spending-splurge
UK Economy

Britain has a new chancellor – get ready for a major spending splurge

The departure of Sajid Javid as chancellor and the appointment of Rishi Sunak marks a change in the style of our politics. John Stepek explains what's…
14 Feb 2020
Visit/economy/600814/money-minute-friday-14-february-the-latest-from-rbs-britains-state-owned-bank
Economy

Money Minute Friday 14 February: The latest from RBS, Britain's state-owned bank

Today's Money Minute previews results from RBS – Britain’s state-owned bank – and from pharma giant AstraZeneca.
14 Feb 2020
Visit/investments/commodities/silver-other-precious-metals/600812/buy-silver
Silver and other precious metals

You should all own some silver. Just don’t expect it to make you rich

Silver is cool, beautiful and immensely useful. But for investors it's the most frustrating of metals. Dominic Frisby explains why you should own some…
12 Feb 2020
Visit/investments/stockmarkets/european-stockmarkets/600725/is-2020-the-year-for-european-small-cap
Sponsored

Is 2020 the year for European small-cap stocks?

SPONSORED CONTENT - Ollie Beckett, manager of the TR European Growth Trust, on why he believes European small-cap stocks are performing well.
12 Feb 2019