THE BLOG
09/09/2013 09:40 BST | Updated 09/11/2013 05:12 GMT

Taxpayers' Alliance Shows No Understanding of Unemployment - Or Economics

The Taxpayers' Alliance, the think tank with close links to the Conservative party, has released its 'Work for the Dole' report recommending that unemployed people work 30 hours each week for their benefits.

This idea has been floated before, but the Alliance has a recent history of its recommendations being adopted as policy by the government - it claims victory in the righteous fight for a lower millionnaire's tax rate for example - and the perceived popularity of its anti-benefits line means the coalition is likely to be tempted to look at this more seriously.

The Alliance, despite its name, doesn't represent the views of taxpayers. It is a right-wing ideas factory which, seeing the lacklustre effect on unemployment figures of toughening benefit conditions and reducing benefits, can only think that more of the same is required.

Its report is based on prejudices rather than facts, repeating some of the same saws the government has used to justify its benefit cap:

"the value of [unemployed people's] benefits taken together adds up to £15,000 to £25,000 per year - about the same as a low-skilled worker earns and often more than the minimum wage. It is no wonder that benefit dependency is widespread when there is so little incentive to get into low-paid work."

In reality, as with the benefit cap, the calculation does not take into account the fact that low-paid people often receive benefits too but these have not been counted.

It also repeats the discredited line that UK jobseekers don't want to work, and adds all the jobs together - 3.5 million - that have been created since 1997 to demonstrate that enough exist to employ all the workless.

This takes no account of where the jobs are created - all 2.5 million jobseekers cannot live in London and the south-east - or of the fact that jobs often last for a short time and one person might have two or three part-time jobs, particularly these days when the recovery has created more of these than full-time permanent opportunities.

And why stop 15 years ago in this piece of dodgy accounting? Why not count every job created since the industrial revolution, and accuse today's jobseekers (the vast majority of whom were yesterday's workers) of neglecting their duties at the Spinning Jenny due to imagined dependency?

The figures don't hang together then, so why has the report been picked up and reported widely?

A benefits to-and-fro has been taking place since the coalition came to power, between the government and the media.

The newspapers - you know which ones - report every example of benefit fraud while their columnists put forward the most abhorrent and uninformed opinions, lumping unemployed people together in a mass of morally-lacking, workshy scroungers.

The government then responds to the outcry created by this even as it feeds it, attempting to make life on the dole ever more unbearable.

There are very few characteristics that can be said to apply to most jobseekers - low income and no job is pretty well the full list - and being workshy is not one of them when the vast majority have worked before.

Those who still accuse the unemployed of deliberately avoiding work only betray their ignorance of how the benefits system works.

A jobseeker who cannot provide extensive evidence that they are actively seeking work, and cannot show they are genuinely engaged with services and advisers, would be sanctioned and have their benefits removed before they received their first payment.

This isn't even touching on the economic effect of suddenly flooding the job market with 2.5 million free workers.

This act is likely to depress entry-level wages further - why pay for something you can get for free - and to reduce the number of real paid jobs in the economy.

In other words, the exact opposite effect the government would be hoping for, particularly when wages have been losing value against inflation for the last four years, helping to stoke anger in the working population that the government and media are exploiting.

After all, if working people can't be persuaded to look at those around them, they might start to hold businesses and politicians responsible for their worsening conditions.

Unemployed people need support with skills, confidence building, flexibility and, something often forgotten, to be left alone sometimes to plan the best way of getting back into the industry they usually know better than the adviser opposite them.

People who have never been unemployed, who don't understand how low the quality of life on benefits is and who gather their information from newspapers with a damaging and divisive agenda, should not involve themselves in this issue.