Friday, 24 October 2008

Blaming the Victims

I was disappointed with this article in today's Western Mail. It quotes Patrick Minford, Professor of Applied Economics at Cardiff Business School, blaming the unemployed for unemployment. “A lot of this has to do with the fact that they are in receipt of benefits so there is no pressure to look for work." It sounds too much like Norman Tebbit's "get-on-your-bike" to me.

This is characteristic of current thinking. I recently blogged on new proposals to force people to work for their incapacity benefits, proposals which have been described by Mark Serwotka as ‘regressive and draconian, going further than even Thatcher dared in the 1980s. Picking up litter to receive benefits will stigmatise people and do nothing to get people back into long-term sustainable employment.’ TUC General Secretary Barber has said: ‘People who lose their jobs want help in getting new skills and new paying jobs, not make-work schemes that provide no pay, no prospects and not even any time to search for a new job. Workfare policies do nothing to benefit wider society. And workers in low paid jobs could well be replaced by workfare claimants leading them to lose their jobs in turn.’

Does Professor Minford think that benefit levels are too high? Does he really think that people live the life of Reilly on benefits? Benefits are set at levels which only just enable people to avoid poverty. No more. Living on benefits is hard - everything has to be rationed - food, fuel, stuff for the kids. Of course people would be better off in well-paid work. But people are not stupid. We all make rational economic decisions. If the only jobs on offer are part time and/or poorly paid, then there's a good chance you'll be worse off working. What sensible, rational being would do that?

The answer is not to reduce benefits levels, or to force ill people to work. The answer is to raise wages. With New Labour ministers blaming immigrants, and now this attack on the unemployed, we can expect a lot more victim-blaming as the recession bites.

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