In a house where the curtains are never open, a long-term unemployed young man watches The Jeremy Kyle Show on his 42 inch plasma television. During a commercial break, he embarks on a little channel-hopping. He accidentally lands on a news channel, where he learns of the chancellor’s announcement that from April next year, the number of days new claimants will lose at the start of a claim for Jobseekers Allowance will rise from three to seven. He is stunned by the news, and can do no more than stare at the screen, wide-eyed and open mouthed, a hand-rolled cigarette glued to his lower lip.
Of course, the scenario above, involving stereotypical dole scrounger, will not happen, because those layabouts who are happy to live on benefits have nothing to fear from this latest attack on the jobless. Their claims were processed years ago and they are quite comfortable, hidden among genuine jobseekers while unemployment is high.
For a new claimant who has been made redundant through no fault of his own, however, adapting to life on benefits will be a bitter struggle. Coming to terms with the loss of his job and wage will be difficult enough, but having to bridge a seven-day gap with no income at all will pile misery on top of anguish. Having been in low-paid work for years, he has no savings to fall back on, and a tempting ‘solution’ to his predicament is to borrow money for essentials, and pay this back when his claim is processed. So the downward spiral into poverty and debt begins on day one. But that is only half the issue: at least this lack of money will focus his mind, right?
I’m not sure how focused the mind can be when the electricity meter is eating up the emergency credit and there is no money to replenish the key; when there is not enough food to last the week, or when the debtors’ knocks get louder, but go unanswered. Surely, the mind will be less focused as the knock-on effects of having zero income kick in. Hunger and money worries are great distractions, but, hey, it serves him right for losing his job.
But it is not only those leaving work who will feel uneasy about this new ruling. People who work on short-term contracts, and those who take temporary jobs will have to consider the implications of the chancellor’s announcement very carefully. Those advertising for maternity cover might well see a drop in applicant numbers, as people become wary of the consequences of taking short-term positions. I can’t see people rushing to take a job for three months, knowing that when it comes to an end and they return to benefits they will have to survive for a week without any income.
Would you embark on such a journey?
What the chancellor doesn’t seem to realise is that being on benefits itself is enough to focus the minds of most people into finding work, but the work isn’t there. With ever more stringent obligations to be signed up to, and job centre staff ready to impose sanctions on the flimsiest of pretexts (a missed appointment can cost the claimant two weeks’ benefit), most of those unfortunates who have found themselves out of work and on the dole actually detest everything about living on benefits, and would give anything to escape the misery.
The out-of-touch Osborne is saying to all new claimants, even those who are prepared to take any kind of work rather than live on benefits, they are not doing enough; that they need to focus more on finding a job. This sweeping generalisation that “you need to do more” will only stigmatize further those who are already made to feel it is their own fault that they happen to be out of work at a time of high unemployment.
So while George’s supporters raise a glass to this latest attack on the nation’s scroungers, the reality is that those whose focus is already quite adequate, those who take temporary jobs, and those who find themselves out of work through no fault of their own will suffer most at the introduction of this measure. Meanwhile, the idler in the first paragraph and his ilk will continue to watch Jezza at the taxpayers’ expense.
All in all a smart, well thought out move.