Ed Miliband apparently relishes the idea of the next 10 months leading into the general election. Well he clearly is looking to make things harder for himself and the Labour Party following his ill-judged Sun newspaper promotion and now the epic own goal that is the youth benefit cut (or as Ed likes to call it, a youth training scheme – which if you don’t do will see you lose your benefits).
The scheme is so bad and poorly judged that it is being attacked from the right and the left of the political spectrum. If you are a pragmatic politician — a value which New Labour expounded constantly throughout its controversial reign — then this policy doesn’t even meet that low bar.
Under the plans, which would affect 100,000 unemployed young people, those aged between 18 and 21 without qualifications equivalent to an A-level or level 3 would have to apply for a new means tested allowance conditional on undertaking job training. What they would receive would depend on how rich their parents are. Only those with the required skills but no job would be entitled to jobseekers’ allowance.
Obviously, Miliband is attempting to appeal to the right of the political spectrum and is playing an active role in perpetuating the falsehood that people can’t get jobs because they can’t be bothered, or because they haven’t the skills to do such jobs.
Pragmatically, the policy falls at the first hurdle when political commentators on the right, obsessed with austerity and fiscal responsibility for people at the bottom rather than people at the top, have correctly said it will have little impact on the £100 billion a year spent on social security.
More importantly the policy is not going to yield results because the unemployment crisis in Britain along with a de-skilled workforce is nothing to do with 18 year olds not being bothered to get educated. Before becoming a journalist, all of the jobs I had only required a basic level of education and were in the main insecure and low paid. Having A-levels made no difference to me getting those jobs. It is not that these jobs did not require skill or hard work – the main problem was they were low paid and insecure.
Despite working for big and well positioned medium sized profitable businesses, I never earned over £16,000 until I was 25. The only reason I was employed was because, quite simply, the job needed doing. If there are, as the statistics show, more would-be workers than jobs, then there will be chronic unemployment. It is about the design of the economic system, not the determination of the individual or their skill level.
The decline of collective bargaining, the prevalence of job agencies and lack of investment in research and development by employers and successive governments alike has led directly to a loss in skills, lower pay and mass dissatisfaction at work.
It has also meant so-called white collar or office jobs that used to be sought after 30 years ago are leaving people feeling undervalued in terms of wages, job security and dignity at work. You do not have to be a journalist to go out and talk to people, to listen and to get a sense of what they want in terms of jobs and conditions. It means asking the right questions, not simply playing to the delusion that unemployed people are all shirkers, milking the benefits system when jobs are plentiful.
The reality is there are 6.3 million people unemployed or underemployed in Britain. Even taking the government’s own figures with all exceptions and loopholes contained within, the figure stands at 2.2 million. There are not 2.2 million job vacancies in the economy. This is before we even take into account whether these are temporary or well paid jobs.
Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation indicates that 13 million people are poverty-stricken with 6.7 million of those living in a household where someone works. And people are on average £1,600 a year worse off under the current government, while transport costs, food, housing, energy and indirect taxation have all risen.
Having just reported on conferences for two Labour-affiliated trade unions, Usdaw and the BFAWU, the message from workers was the same: dignity at work and higher wages to keep up with the cost of living. Given the facts, Labour’s policy is unlikely to work in narrow practical terms or improve Ed’s low standing with the electorate.
This all raises the question; does Labour even want to win the election? A step left toward the roots of the Labour Party would be in the interests of millions currently languishing under austerity. A continuing drive to the right will ensure five more years of Tory rule.