Those reforms…

Today, the government announced that they would be undertaking the most radical reform of the benefit system since it was originally founded. Something in particular caught my eye (although there’s a lot in this to catch the eye) because it’s something I feel particularly strongly about, and a situation I’ve been in before it my life.

The reforms call for “Those refusing to work facing a maximum three-year loss of benefits”. This brings up loads of questions for me, the most clear being: what constitutes refusing to work? The first thing I think of is that scene from Trainspotting, where Spud goes for his job interview and does well enough to make people think he’s trying, but not well enough to actually get the job. So, if people were to do this in real life, they’d have their benefits stopped? Well, I guess I can see the thinking behind that one…

…but what if the job is something they don’t want to do? Is there an element of choice in this? Is there an element of being able to say “actually, I have a specific type of job I want. I’m willing to take what I can get but I know what sort of job is going to make me feel happy and fulfilled, and what sort of job is going to make me feel depressed and despondent.”

This page goes into a little more detail about the potential benefit-stoppage:

“This will generally see those who refuse work on one occasion in 12 months having their benefits taken away for three months. If they refuse a second job within the next 12 months, benefits will be taken away for six months. If they refuse a third job in the next 12 months, their benefits will be taken away for three years.”

If someone is offered a job and they don’t take it, their benefits will be stopped. For three months. That’s a long time. And to me, that suggests a mindset of “better to be working at anything at all than unemployed but looking for a suitable job.” Is this ok? Is this an acceptable philosophy to have? To be honest, I’m not sure. But, I know what my experience is.

I have worked jobs that have been awful. I have worked jobs that have made me not want to get out of bed in the morning, and go to bed at night dreading having to get up the next day to go to work. But I had no choice but to keep working, because we needed the money. So I wonder, will the mental health of the currently unemployed be an issue when all these unemployed are forced into the first job to come along, regardless of how suitable it is for them? We all know that people aren’t going to be able to afford to be picky as work is few and far between, especially if you’re under 25. Will forcing the unemployed into low paid, unfulfilled jobs mean that the nation is better off? Am I being far too idealistic?

And with the high likelihood of people who are currently classed as unfit to work for health reasons or due to disability being reclassified as fit to work, how will the welfare system support those who need extra support back to work? Is this going to be the same issue of forcing them into the first job to come along, no matter how suitable it is?

If the government wants to get more people back into work, they need support. The answer is not to throw people into the first job that comes along just to bring down the unemployment figures and shift people off benefits, as it will only bring high levels of unemployment later when everyone quits the crappy jobs they don’t want. Support people into good, suitable jobs that are supportive and you’ll end up with people who feel valued in their jobs and in their society.

However. It would seem that the current status of things is that those who work are above those who don’t. And those who don’t, for whatever reason, should aspire to work. Even if that work is unfulfilling and causing the now employed person to have a job, but be depressed and learn to hate work.

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