Tuesday, 9 November 2010


The government's proposal to introduce workfare for those unemployed for over a year and, in the view of officials, not trying hard enough to get another job, has received a muted response, even from the Labour Party. Only the Archbishop of Canterbury is reported as having spoken out against.

My own view is that if there is work to be done in cleaning and tidying up our environment than we should pay people the going rate to do it. The only exceptions should be willing volunteers, such as the Ramblers' Association, who organise working parties to keep footpaths clear, and people convicted of a crime but not a danger to the public, who should rightly be given non-custodial sentences which may involve such tasks. I see no reason to humiliate this latter group by forcing them to wear distinctive clothing that identifies them as doing compulsory "community pay-back."

What, then, of that one and a half million unemployed who, in tabloid jargon, are too idle or indifferent to get a job, and who need to be "remotivated" by a bit of stick? Frankly, I believe the overwhelming majority would dearly like a job and will have tried very hard, until it seemed hopeless, to get one. We should not allow those who are not in this category, whom I believe to be a tiny minority, to stigmatize the entire group. I think it was the sociologist Peter Townsend, founder of the Child Poverty Action Group, who wrote that: "when the economic history of this age comes to be written, the problem of the skiver will not merit so much as a footnote."

Some years ago I heard a non-religious speaker on Radio 4's "Thought for the Day." He argued that all peop0le have three basic psychological needs: to know that somebody cares what happens to them; to feel that at sometime someone has benefited from their existence; and to be able to pay their way. It is the last point that is relevant here: although some might put a brave face on it, no one actually wants to be a perpetual "hanger-on."

It is high time our society relaxed over this issue and adopted the Green Party's proposal of a Citizens' Income, to which all are entitle by right of citizenship. Then we could forget about the "skivers" and all get on with our lives.


  1. There is an interesting angle on this question here: http://stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com/

    The Green Party's Citizen's Income is an interesting idea, not least because paying people 'not to work' may be socially beneficial if work is conceived as producing more and more stuff to fuel unsustainable consumption patterns. You are absolutely right to stress that the stigma over unemployment gets in the way of rational discussion of how people should employ their time and be rewarded in advanced and very affluent societies.

  2. Thanks for your "link", Jaime, which also led me on to a Fabian Society blog on workfare:


    They warn IDS that workfare is not the "silver bullet" some of the right think it is, but do acknowledge that, using "nudge" techniques, it can be useful.

    I agree with you that we do need to re-appraise the position of work in our affluent society. It is emphatically not the purpose of life, though some of us are lucky enough to get a lot of satisfaction out of it. I can't for example, see why single parents should be forced to go out to work, and then pay someone else to look after their children