SHADOW DWP Secretary Jonathan Ashworth has outlined his plans for reform of the Department of Work and Pensions. His main priority appears to be to ‘encourage’ the long term sick and disabled back into employment. As The Canary notes, “This narrative – that too many people are not working due to sickness, disability or old age – is exactly the same one that the Tory government is using.”
In his speech to the Centre for Social Justice, Ashworth claims, “Being out of work is bad for health and the longer someone is out of work for reasons of sickness, the more difficult it becomes for them to return to a job.”
The claim that ‘being out of work is bad for health’ appears to be based on a Government briefing paper from 2011. The ‘conclusion’ that being out of work is bad for health was based on a question about how individuals’ health had changed between two interviews six months apart.
In 1844 Karl Marx wrote that for most workers their labour appeared as something alien to them, as an external being controlling them. As he noted, “As soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, labour is shunned like the plague.”
Obviously nobody would expect a member of the Labour Party, particularly on the front bench, to have the slightest clue about Marx or what it feels like to do a job with absolutely no meaning. But the idea that forcing people into low-paid, boring work is good for their health has been promoted since the time of New Labour, although inspired by Thatcher.
This emphasis on reducing the bill for benefits by having people look for work that does not exist is an old rhetorical trick. In his speech Ashworth makes the connection in the following way: “Today over a million people are out of work despite wanting a job. Yet employers are struggling to fill over a million vacancies.”
What he fails to say is whether those million vacancies are in the same areas as those seeking work, whether they match their skills, or how much they might pay. The promise here is of a low pay economy where people can move seamlessly from benefits to work and “with the help of employment support will be able to return to the benefits they were on without the need for another lengthy assessment process”.
Tony Blair said in 2002, “Government has a responsibility to provide real opportunities for individuals… But individuals also have a responsibility to grasp those opportunities.” What he meant was that whatever opportunities we provide for you should be met with your gratitude. But if you aren’t grateful enough for the carrots we toss your way, we have a big stick instead.
We agree with our friends at The Canary: “A Labour government with an agenda of wanting more chronically ill, sick and disabled people in work – when the Tories have already wrung that sponge dry, leaving thousands dead – is perverse in the extreme.”
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