Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Frank Field calls for the work-shy to be punished. Welfare reforms are not radical enough, he says!

Frank Field (pictured), the Labour MP for Birkenhead, is back in the headlines once again after claiming that David Cameron`s proposals for reforming the welfare state, don`t go far enough. He favours a harsher welfare regime that punishes the 'work-shy' and rewards those who have contributed to the system.

A former Labour minister at the Department of Social Security, he was once dubbed by Tony Blair, his 'minister to think the unthinkable'. But he was criticised for being inclined to pose more questions than he answered. Now he`s been appointed by the Con-Dem government as their 'Poverty Tsar', to look into poverty and life chances.

As a former poverty professional himself, having worked for both the 'Child Poverty Action Group'(CPAG) and the 'Low Pay Unit', Field, ought to know something about poverty. But he has attracted a certain amount of notoriety for his right wing views on welfare reform. He has said that he favours reintroducing National Service to tackle unemployment and to inculcate, in the unemployed, a sense of order and patriotism. Some years ago, he also proposed that the unemployed (like criminals), should be subjected to compulsory DNA testing as a way of countering benefit fraud.

Curiously, as a practising Anglican and member of the Church of England General Synod, Field, seems to show a certain predilection for deriding the poor and disadvantaged. This may well be linked to his upbringing. Both his parents who were Conservatives (like himself), "believed in character and pulling oneself up by one's own bootstraps." He also exhibits a certain inclination towards using the welfare system as a means for social engineering. But as George Orwell, once pointed out, there`s a 'pew-renter' asleep in every Englishman.

Judging from his recent musings in the national press, a number of things seem to gall Frank Field about the welfare state. He says that since the election, nine-out-of-ten jobs which have been created, have gone to foreigners because the British fail to chase work. The public he says, are clamouring for tougher sanctions that force the long-term unemployed back to work, like taking their benefits off them. Moreover, he says, that voters reject the idea that entitlement to state benefits should be based solely on need and not earned. He believes that 'good and reliable' people who have worked and paid National Insurance contributions and contributed to society, should be prioritised for help above others. This equally applies when allocating social housing. Field says that priority should be given to those who are deserving, such as those who have waited the longest, paid their rent on time, and have been upright citizens who have kept their children out of trouble.

Concerning the government's work programme for the unemployed, Field says that he doubts that this will ultimately have a huge impact on the number of workless claimants, or those who have never worked, getting back to work. He believes that those who are likely to gain jobs from these schemes, will be the recently unemployed, who are 'work ready' and motivated and easier to place in work, by private companies running these schemes. However, he adds:

"But what of those lads, barely able to read or write, who tell me they wouldn't dream of taking a job that doesn't pay three times the rate they gain on benefits, and who refuse those jobs available on the grounds that such work is fit only for immigrants? This group of recidivists, workless claimants, know from past experience that governments leave them alone."

Field says that three quarters of the public - including benefit claimants - believe those who willingly refuse to seek work should lose all or part of their benefit. He wants tougher sanctions to force people back to work and believes, that if this is not introduced, the Government`s approach to welfare reform will fail. He also believes that we ought to get back to an insurance based system where benefits are only awarded to those who have paid in and not to those who are in need, or whose income is below a certain threshold.

As Frank Field is undoubtedly aware, claimants already in receipt of Jobseeker`s Allowance (JSA), have to be available for work and must provide evidence that they are seeking work every time they sign-on, in order to keep their JSA. Under the guise of 'work experience', many claimants are also working for their dole money for private employers or are being confined in modern day 'detention centres' doing job searches. If unemployed, your chances having getting a job will differ depending on where you live. Rates of unemployment vary across the country and within regions. In Dorset West, one claimant of JSA is chasing every vacancy, but in Hull North and Rhondda, there are 84 claimants chasing every vacancy. Moreover, Britain has never had a system of social insurance like that which developed in countries like France and Germany. Britain`s welfare system is a product of the new poor law and the 'workhouse', which continued in this country from 1834 to the introduction of the National Assistance Act in 1948. The 'means test', the workhouse, the 'deserving and undeserving poor' and the principle of 'less eligibility', have shaped and moulded the British Welfare State for donkey's years, as well as the opinions of its ruling political elite.

For the last 30 years, successive governments in this country have continually sought to undermine and dismantle the benefits system on a piecemeal basis, to make it less attractive to be out of work and to price the unemployed back into work by taking low-paid employment. Hyperbole about the work-shy, scroungers, and the deserving and undeserving, used by political parasites like Frank Field, are merely conjurors tricks designed to make it easier to cut the benefits bill. The Con-Dem (millionaire) government of which he is a member, is already, "looking at more radical American-style plans to set time limits on benefits for fit people of working age", (Daily Telegraph 21/6/11).

We should not forget that back in 1996 the government cut contributory unemployment benefit from 12 months entitlement to 6 months, at a stroke, regardless of how much money people had paid into the system and without any consultation whatsoever. Who would pay into social insurance system where there was no guarantee that the government would even honour the social contract? Likewise, who would want to buy into a system which is so punitive and which pays a mere pittance, to the jobless, as compared with other welfare systems in other EEC countries? While means-testing may well create perverse incentives like making people less inclined to save, it has nevertheless, been preferred by British governments because it is far cheaper than the cost of providing a universal welfare system, where everybody was entitled, who had paid in.


Anonymous said...

Field is a tory-arse licking bastard . I would gladly cut his throat , and all those who agree with him.

dolce far niente said...

Another "tory-arse liking bastard" is Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail who also likes to have the occasional poke at those on unemployment benefit. Both Field and Phillips seem to have started life as trendy middle-class lefties and then became right wing moralisers. Is it indolence per se they object to or only the indolent who draw state benefits? I`ve never heard either one of them criticise those people who live off the backs of others such as those idle swines who live off investment income or the Royal Family. I suspect it all boils down to middle-class morality. As that conniving dustman, Alfred Doolittle says, in Shaw`s play 'Pygmalion':

" I`m one of the undeserving poor: That`s what I am. Think of what that means to a man. It means that he`s up against middle-class morality all the time...And what`s middle-class morality? Just an excuse for never giving me anything."