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Next stop the workhouse

The world is going to hell in a handcart, driven by the madness of the capitalist market economy. But wait, New Labour is about to leap into action to save us all. Today, Her Majesty’s government will through the Queen announce lie detector tests aimed at “benefit cheats” and harsher financial penalties for the disabled and lone parents who are considered not to have made a supreme effort to find work.

At last the government is getting its priorities right! The poor are obviously the main problem in society, if not the cause of the economic crisis, and what they need is discipline and more discipline. My only surprise is that New Labour has not actually resorted to a reintroduction of the Poor Law. In Victorian England, when people scrounged and begged instead of working for a pittance they were sent to the workhouse. That soon sorted them out!

The way work and pensions minister James Purnell is going, however, the workhouse could will be his next proposal. Yesterday he published a review prepared by the academic Paul Gregg that proposed that all lone parents with children as young as one ought to be required to make themselves ready for work. Only in July, he proposed that it should be a requirement for lone parents with children aged seven or above to seek work (it is estimated there are 600,000 lone parents with children aged under seven). At this rate, those with unborn children will soon be in the frame.

"Sanctions would only apply to those who refuse to take steps to be job-ready that have been jointly agreed with their personal advisers in jobcentres," said a ministry official. From 2010 many of these advisers will be employed by the private sector or charities, as the privatisation of welfare continues apace in New Labour’s brave new world. Some of the charities now fear that mass unemployment will render their contracts useless. Have no pity for those who scrambled to help to implement the government’s agenda.

Purnell’s proposals have drawn a fierce reaction. John McDonnell MP described them as “New Labour's reactionary flailings” and warned: “The pressure that will be placed on lone parents will have a direct impact on the care that they can provide to their children - and affordable childcare is still not sufficiently available.” The TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, said that the government’s approach “assumes a utopian world of unrestricted childcare and widely available jobs where only the lazy opt for life on the dole" while "thousands of people are joining the dole queue every day through no fault of their own." Barber is right about that, at least.

Yesterday, Glasgow-based Bowie Castlebank Group, which include photo-processing chains Klick Photopoint and Max Spielman and dry cleaner William Munro, was the latest firm to be placed in administration. The company employed 1,664 people at 314 shops across the UK. A survey from Markit Economics showed that the job market weakened rapidly in November as permanent placements declined at a record rate. The drop in permanent and temporary jobs was faster than at any point in the survey's 11-year history. "The UK jobs market is heading downhill at breakneck speed," said Mike Stevens at KPMG, a sponsor of the survey.

A coalition of trade union leaders and poverty campaigners has condemned the attacks on claimants and called on “the government to rethink its plans”. That is simply not going to happen. New Labour’s answer to the economic and financial crisis is to drive down conditions and wages to help get capitalism back on its feet again. If just one union leader recognised that fact and opened a campaign to defeat the government, it would be a step forward.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor
3 December 2008

Morven says:

As a lone mother, I find the proposal to push mothers into work while their child is aged 1, incredibly harsh and not well thought out. Childcare itself is very expensive, and even if it is available, the majority of positions do not allow for the flexability required as a mother collecting and dropping her child off at nursery. In order for me to be able to run this household by myself and pay for childcare (of which I am aware there is concs available), I would need to be earning at least 200 a week. In today's market with limited work available how is that possible? What I don't understand is why single mother's are penalised and why it is so important that someone else brings up their children. It all seems completely backward to me. What I suggest is that there is more support (financial and advice) in getting mothers back into work once their children are in school at least. At present there does appear to be a benefit trap which I personally find very difficult to get out of.

Anon says:

The thing is the secret is out. Many people know > that the rich avoid far more tax in dodges than that of the cost to the treasury through benefit fraud. These lie detector tests in The Jobcentre 'Plus' (ha ha) have just been sold to them by some business who have successfully lobbied them no doubt. What a waste of money (they are proven not to be completely accurate anyway.)

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