Fighting the wrong workfare battles

It all started when

blogged that some DWP staff were themselves on workfare placements! This should be the ultimate idiocy, but I don’t think it is ‘ultimate’. Things may well get worse before they get better. What could be more stupid than compelling people to work when nationally there are six workless competing for every job? See:

Unfortunately there is a reason why this grotesque unjust farce goes unnoticed. Even those crucified by workfare started attacking each other over the DWP staff issue, but more of that in a moment. What should have happened, and it still could, is that everyone re- tweets a more positive response until it goes viral. Beyond the gutter press which relays Tory propaganda, there is a silent majority who will recognize this workfare development as the symptom of just how pathological this government has become. But it needs spelling out. so I must start at the beginning.

The 1942 ‘Beveridge’ Report

assumed that full employment in an expanding economy would be the norm. Comprehensive social security would depend on work based insurance. However, just in case this could not be guaranteed, means tested National Assistance would be available for anyone with no other means of support, even if they had made no contributions. Lady Rhys Williams, a member of the Beveridge Commission, realized the extreme seriousness of this flaw. She pointed out that at worst it would trap the poor in poverty, and even in economically buoyant times it would permanently create a work disincentive. In a dissenting report she proposed a Basic, i.e. Citizens Income – in 1944. The Trade Union dominated commission suppressed publication of Lady Rhys Williams’ report. (A note for anyone who clicks the link on Lady Rhys Williams: I discuss in other blog posts that the Citizens’ Income has supporters with very different agendas. The actual outcome depends on other factors.)

Needless to say, the ‘Beveridge’ assumptions no longer hold good. They were never reliable. There are two ways in which the problem created by means testing can be resolved. The Basic, or Citizens’ Income (give benefits to everybody, and take back in tax from higher incomes) is generally assumed to be unthinkable. The other way is to just stop giving benefits. But this too is unthinkable, yet, though the nastier Tories and their allies are working on it. So the work disincentive has to be overcome, if necessary by ever more draconian sanctions. One set of the oppressed oppressing the others is just the latest logical development – if you can’t or won’t consider the Citizens’ Income. Admittedly at first sight a CI seems counter-intuitive. “Workers paying for shirkers” “Who would bother to work?”, “If you tax the rich to pay for it, they will all emigrate” “It won’t create any jobs”, and many more objections. If the Citizens’ Income is not even in the discussion – if you haven’t grasped that means testing acts as a massive tax on low incomes (see graph) – then it seems quite reasonable to the great majority of people not being forced into slavery that workers should not have to pay for shirkers, and so on. This is why even those most in need of rescue from workfare end up attacking each other instead of Iain Duncan Smith. My book (link on the home Page) has a full discussion of how a Citizens’ Income would work out in practice. Suffice it to say here that there are answers to most questions, some of which are quite surprising:

But a CI is not a panacea. Any queries not immediately answered will benefit from the shift in public attitudes which will follow widespread discussion.

So the sight of the three day spat in the comments on

between those slagging off the scabs forced to work for the DWP, and those defending the impossible position they have been put in, makes me very sad. They are fighting the wrong battles.

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