Why young people? And Why now?

There are better alternatives to the Conservatives’ JSA proposals

Job-Seekers’ Allowance is the ultimate scapegoat for most people, among not only the right of the political spectrum, but commonly among the centre and even occasionally aspects of the left – a truly complex issue which has people either scratching their heads and pulling out their hair, or merely not being all that fussed, really.

The Conservatives announced at their Party Conference an intention to introduce a policy which would require 16–25 year olds to work for their benefits – often through community service and, importantly, also through taking up training courses and attending their local job centres daily to prove that they were indeed searching for a job.

On first examination this seems like a universally acceptable policy: why on earth should anyone receive other people’s hard-earned money whilst they idle on the dole? However there are things which I, in particular, find truly disconcerting.

As an example, I know many people who’ve been in work since the age of 16 on a constant basis – roughly paying NI tax (among others) for, on average, around 6 years. In the hypothetical situation that a person’s employer has become over-indebted and has to make staff redundant, doesn’t it seem ridiculous to make that person go through community service and training, despite the fact their employment was terminated under conditions outside their control? In addition, doesn’t it also seem ridiculous for a person who’s paid their taxes for 6 years to then have to “earn” them back?

Why is it JUST young people being targeted here? Isn’t the wider issue that of people being angry at the supposed ‘benefit culture’ we live in? Is that eradicated by merely making young people work for their benefits? Must a 26-year old benefits claimant  undergo the process of sitting in an interview to make an ‘employment plan’? I cannot see how this is justified.

According to research conducted by Economic Strategy and Intelligence (ESI), in 2012 the 16–24 age bracket of made up 29% of total JSA claimants, the highest of all age brackets by over 4%. With this in mind, is the Government right to start with the highest claimant bracket? After all, it could increase the age brackets as and when it deemed necessary.

Young-person-reading-001This is entirely logical – something should be done about young people claiming JSA, but there’s only so much that Government can do. It’s crucial to highlight here the obvious thing that Government can create jobs only within the Public Sector, and that, afterwards, its influence remains solely in two areas: firstly, creating an environment where businesses can thrive so that employers can thus offer employment, and secondly, offering training and help to all citizens to increase their appeal to employers. With this in mind, is it correct for it to focus on the latter, rather than the former? After all, isn’t it apparent that the former has a much more potent ability to get (young) people into work and thus remove them from being JSA claimants?

Is there, however, a better way? Philosophically, I agree totally with Rawls in designating the benefit scrounger as a ‘free rider’ – a burden on the State that just takes and never bothers to give back, as if the State has an obligation to pay him. This is totally abhorrent in my opinion: if you have no duty to the State, then the State has no duty to you – in other words, if you won’t give back to the State, then why should the State give to you?

But to me, expecting an individual who has worked for several years and paid all of his taxes (a duty) to then perform community service and training (yet another duty) in order for the State to provide him with JSA seems particularly egregious. The crucial target for this should surely be those individuals who have never even had a job and have thus performed no action to “earn” the money. Because once you give people, whether young or old, that sense of what it feels like to earn your money, then in the majority of cases, people want more. It should be about starting off that domino effect.

In addition, community service has for decades been a form of judicially-imposed punishment. Is Government right in effect to punish someone for being made redundant in addition to losing their job and, in most cases, a better income? I don’t believe it is.

Furthermore, demanding daily attendance at the job centre specifically to look for a job is an outdated requirement: job centres’ roles have now become prioritised with people claiming benefits and nothing more. The internet has enabled a rapid innovation in the jobs market through websites like Indeed, or even via advertising vacancies on employers’ own sites, like Asda, as it simply suits employers more to do it that way.

I believe the Government is justified in one element of targeting young people first, as the staggeringly high percentage of JSA claimants being young people must be dealt with in some way. However, the Government should be focussing much more intensely on creating conditions for businesses to thrive and thus able to employ more people, and young people in particular.

Reece Warren


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