The Chancellor George Osborne is set to announce cuts to benefits today which he says could total £10 billion. The right wing press are lauding his efforts to crack done on the 'dossers' 'scroungers' and 'work shy.' They're all missing the point though, which is that not everyone on benefits is unemployed, and not everyone who is unemployed is happy that way.
If the Chancellor was a little more enlightened, and a little less hung up on pleasing The Daily Express, he might ask why the benefits bill in so large. One problem is that there are not enough jobs to go round, and that sometimes the jobs that are available have no suitably qualified applicants. The causes of unemployment are complex, but cutting funding to education during an economic downturn seems like the worst idea this government have had (and there are quite a few bad ideas to choose from).
Surely access to good quality education for everybody is one way of helping young people make a contribution to society and the economy, whereas taking away their right to housing benefit would have exactly the opposite effect, sending them back to live with their parents if they are lucky or condemning them to homelessness and in the worst case scenario, crime. Removing benefits from this group looks like a cheap pop at a group in society most hated by the right wing, the NEETs (young people not in education, employment or training). Yet the Chancellor and this government fail to ask themselves why this group exists in the first place, and try to help them into work. Instead access to education and benefits is cut. Even if this group took the old school Tory Norman Tebbit's advice and 'got on their bikes' to look for work, they might find themselves homeless at the end of their journey, should they fail to find work.
Economic theories offer a wide variety of ideas about how to improve the country's finances and return to rates of growth which were seen in the last decade. Some would advocate trickle down economics, where more money for the rich, eventually means better lives for the poor. Others would advocate a Keynesian approach, where the model for improvement comes from a delicate balance between the private and public sector. I'm sure if the answer to the global economic crisis were easy to find somebody would have found it by now. What I am pretty sure of, however is that the Tories refusal to further tax those who can most afford it by imposing the 'Mansion Tax' combined with yet another easy hit on the most disadvantaged in society won't improve things. But investment in schools, providing better education, in more modern schools, extending access to childcare to enable young parents to work and increasing access to further and higher education certainly would help. Then the young people in our society could really contribute positively.
If this government continue to cut funding to education, putting strain on schools and reducing access to higher education, then they risk under investing this country's biggest assert, its children and young people.
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