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UnemployedNet's 2014 Resolutions for a Better New Year

10/01/2014 11:22 GMT | Updated 11/03/2014 09:59 GMT

Well we've made it. The turkey has finished its traditional journey from shop to roast to sandwich to curry to bin and 2014 is well and truly with us. Those of us interested in political and social issues, particularly unemployment, are glad to see the back of last year.

At the end of 2013 on The Huffington Post we summed up what was wrong with the last year for unemployed people. The big issue was the massive rise in sanctions, with more and more people falling foul of an increasingly politicised system and the government looking like it was using it to boost a cut in joblessness.

This was backed up by a deluge of media stories and TV programmes which took the concept of appealing to the base instincts of the British and ran away with it. The link between government rhetoric and media vilification of the workless grew even stronger last year, and this contributed to the raising of the brick wall of misunderstanding between the unemployed and much of the rest of the population.

But we have to have some faith that things can get better, so what are we hoping for in 2014?

1) Let's start with a change at the top. It isn't for us to tell governments who should be in the cabinet or ministerial positions, but Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, has been disastrous for the unemployed.

It isn't just the fact that he has been pulled up multiple times for making misleading claims about his 'successes', it is the fact that he doesn't even believe in fact-based policy making any more, preferring faith independent of any proof.

It isn't just the fact that under his watch the number of people being referred for sanctions (the process of having their benefits taken away for perceived offences) has shot up from 1.336 million in 2011 (itself a record) to over 1.9 million, a whopping 45% rise, it is that his frontline staff are now being given financial incentives to take money away from the unemployed.

It isn't just that he has overseen a further erosion in the value of benefits by increasing them by less than the rate of inflation, cut housing benefit, introduced the bedroom tax, capped all benefits and made other cuts, it is that the UK's welfare system started off providing the lowest payments in western Europe and he continues to call it generous.

It isn't just that every support scheme he has touched has turned dry and withered, from the work programme to the youth contract, it is that his schemes recognise only the carrot for employers and the stick for jobless people.

The quiet man needs to speak up for those he is charged with supporting or move aside for someone who will.

2) Money will be the biggest issue for the workless in 2014 as it was in 2013, so we want to see not just the restoration of inflation-linked benefits, but a full review to set benefits at a level which meets reasonable basic needs. Food and energy form a huge proportion of the spending of any claimant, and social security has not kept pace with the rise in their cost. Those on welfare need to be provided with enough money to live on, and too often that is not now the case.

3) Looking for work shouldn't take away from a claimant's ability to feed and clothe themselves, so all resources needed to find a job should be provided for free. This should include all travel, internet and computer access, interview clothes, work tools for those who have job offers, training which leads to a good chance of work, and all other direct spending. No jobseeker should have to think about whether they can afford to get to their job club, or buy a suit for an interview, or gain a fork lift driving licence, and money worries are getting in the way of finding work.

4) The government is fond of using the language of competition so should make the work programme voluntary and challenge providers to compete for the custom of workless people. If this is good enough for patients choosing a GP, or parents choosing a school, it should be good enough for unemployed people and would help to lift standards and see the closure of underperforming contractors.

5) The media needs to pitch in during this time of national emergency and change wholesale the way it depicts worklessness. The year is off to a bad start here with Channel 4's Benefits Street setting a poor precedent in the first week of January, following a 2013 in which TV programmes almost exclusively showed unemployed people as a criminal underclass. At a time when there are still nearly five workless people for every job vacancy it is ridiculous to pretend that the millions are somehow personally lacking in character, and the right way to report on them is with sympathy and understanding.

6) We live in a democracy and we want unemployed people to vote and campaign together to ensure they get the same good political deal older people and others receive. The main reason the workless get such a raw deal is the lack of identification as a group; if you're unemployed you see yourself as being in a state of motion which works against banding and acting jointly.

This makes it very hard to build a community, and also provides fertile ground for growing demons for those who are so minded.

These are our wishes for the unemployed in 2014; why not tell us yours by commenting below?