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Mass Workfare, Mass Sanctioning, Food Banks and Pay Day Loans: Welcome to the Recovery

07/05/2015 11:06 BST | Updated 06/05/2016 10:59 BST

The apparent 'economic recovery' of the UK of May 2015, can be seen in the extremely dubious terms set by the formerly incumbent Conservative-led coalition government, and none more so than in the widespread use of food banks and payday loans by the unemployed, and 'working poor' alike.

Food banks existed before they became an everyday feature of life in the UK, but it does not take a Sociology Professor to be able to make the very obvious 'cause-effect' bit of deduction involved. Political decisions purposely made for ideological purposes such as mass workfare, and mass sanctioning of claimants, not to mention the steep decline in living standards for the working majority are both cause and effect of 'austerity' and the Tory zeal with which it has been imposed on the country.

Indeed in spite of the disingenuous and unconvincing spin attempted that 'more people are using food banks because more know about them', such ridiculous party political homilies deliberately ignore the harsh reality they themselves contribute to.

The 'recovery' of Austerity Britain is certainly not felt by all, and the harshness and difficulty of life for very many if not in fact the majority, can be seen in the bare fact of a million people relying on food banks as a result of being rendered destitute courtesy of the Job Centre and 'sanctioning', or made to work unpaid through workfare as a condition of not facing it.

Additionally, there is the big Tory wheeze of 'moving the goalposts' for what is counted as 'employed' and 'unemployed' and indeed 'economic activity', meaning that there has also really been no 'increase' in 'the numbers in work', or 'fall' in the unemployment or claimant total merely that those without any secure or guaranteed income have been're-classified' so as to appear as if they have one.

Perhaps the biggest part of the said 'big Tory wheeze' has been to 'encourage' formerly unemployed claimants of Job Seeker's Allowance (JSA) to sign off and become claimants of Tax Credits to top up their severely strained incomes from 'self-employment' doing piece work of some kind. If the numbers for the 'newly self-employed' outlined are not removed from the unemployment or JSA total but added to it, the overall total of both is far far higher than is ever officially claimed, in fact something approaching early-80s levels, so around 3 million.

So 'the recovery' is essentially anathema. Besides the bogus classification of 'self-employment', there is also the tawdry reality of the numbers chronically underemployed, a number which can easily more than double the three million or so who are to all intents and purposes unemployed, most notoriously among those being employees on zero-hours contracts in which no definite hours of work or number of hours are even 'guaranteed' from week to week.

Besides all those under 'sanction' for missing a Job Centre appointment because they were attending a job interview, or the many other equally absurd reasons, and all those 'being helped' by the self-help mantras and material compulsion of workfare, we come back to the beginning of this article: food banks. Amidst the day-to-day harshness of Thatcherism Redux which has animated polices implemented in the last 5 years, there are other visible signs as to the true nature of 'the recovery'.

The unemployed, and claimants of other 'benefits' of some kind - such as Tax Credits - not simply those 'sanctioned' or forced onto workfare, are of course easy pickings for legal loan sharks aka 'payday lenders', who have not so much 'increased in number' as snowballed far and wide in the UK in the course of the last 5-6 years.

Payday lenders offer credit - at jaw-droppingly high rates of interest: 4000% as a sample - and of course, put brutally cash, when those denied both have nothing and nowhere else to go, as such, they are now a feature of high streets and local shopping centres specifically in poor areas of cities, and towns with limited and meagre employment prospects. Underwritten by hundreds of millions in private equity, behind the 'accessible' and 'everyday' face of payday loans their substance is and always was predatory and cynical in the extreme, that being they 'are better' than illegal door step lenders - and of course 'investors' don't have to get their hands dirty in seeing a substantial return on their 'investment'.

And so back to 'the recovery': noticeable by its indefinite absence, because there really is no such thing. The economic reality of life in contemporary Britain is one of an increasingly harsh and burdensome existence for the majority, and directly as a result of political decisions made to try to facilitate an increasingly easy one for the top 3-5% of the population, the top 1% in particular. However, the social reckoning for such class-oriented political decisions remains to be seen and really cannot be underestimated now or in the future.