The Welfare Reform Bill proposes huge changes in the benefits system, including a major extension of the requirement to seek work and compulsory work-for-benefit (workfare) schemes. Income Support will be abolished and most disabled claimants gradually transferred to JSA. The conditions for getting the new benefits for disabled people who are supposed to seek work or do work-related training may include compulsory treatment for drug addiction or other medical treatment. Lone parents, even those with very young children, may be required to attend interviews, make ‘action plans’ or attend training. People who stay on JSA over two years will be placed on compulsory schemes to work for their benefit without any extra money. Alongside these changes, the government proposes to contract out some job centre services and the majority of back to work schemes to private profit-making contractors.
Here’s what Anne said to the meeting:-
WELFARE LOBBY SPEECH 3 MARCH
The Green Party is associated with campaigning for action to stop climate change. But it’s not just about that, the Green Party is also about social justice and keeping public services public. The Welfare Reform Bill is NOT about social justice, it’s a charter for INJUSTICE. We already sent the government our criticisms of it at the Green Paper stage (see http://www.greenparty.org.uk/news/workfare-is-not-the-answer.html).
Around 3 million redundant workers, thrown out of their jobs as an indirect result of bankers’ greed, are going to be cannon fodder for the privatised back to work contractors, who will make big profits out of the redundant workers’ misery.
The whole idea that intensive placement services are the solution to unemployment is a bad bosses’ charter anyway. It makes people compete harder with each other for the few vacancies that are left in the economy, and thus reduces labour standards. If that creates new jobs, as the neo-classical economists tell us, it’s only because some employers respond to the availability of cheaper labour. But they only do that if there is demand. Supply side economics just doesn’t work if demand for labour has collapsed. So the government’s solution to rising unemployment just won’t work now.
The Green Party offers three solutions:-
1) Green Party policy is to create new jobs. We brought out the Green New Deal jointly with the New Economics Foundation. (For further details see (http://www.neweconomics.org/gen/z_sys_publicationdetail.aspx?pid=). ) It’s a plan to create jobs by investment in wind power, solar power, insulation of homes and other buildings, growing more sustainable food, care services, health services, better public services generally. If the government can spend all that money on propping up the banks, why not spend it for jobs that will meet real social needs and help us combat climate change ?
2) We advocate shorter working time. Our Green MEPs have struggled vigorously in the European Parliament to end the UK’s opt out form the 48 hour week. There is a wealth of continental experience, in France, Germany, Denmark and Belgium, about how negotiated reductions in working time can create jobs, by sharing work, through subsidised short time working, extra leave and so on. We need to learn from these and do it.
3) Rather than make conditions for getting JSA tighter, as the government proposes, we should be reducing conditionality. We should be moving in the direction of a guaranteed basic income for everyone, with no conditions, no means testing. The Green Party has been advocating this for years. (See http://younggreens.greenparty.org.uk/AboutUs/Policy/CitizensIncome) A basic income without conditions would mean people could take what part-time and temporary work they could get without losing benefit. At present, if a friend asks you to paint her bathroom, dig an allotment, clear a garden, help in the local pub on a busy night, you can’t, it’s illegal. But unemployed people need to take what they can get and build up to a proper job again gradually. There is so much money now being given out in different kinds of tax credits in addition to JSA, child allowances and the new disability benefits that the government might as well do it, wrap them all up into one benefit. In fact the Parliamentary Select Committee on Work and Pensions suggested this in its 2007 report. It proposed a Single Working Age Benefit. It would save a fortune in administrative costs. But David Freud and his colleagues didn’t listen.
The unemployed need incentives to take part time and temporary work. Our approach is an incentives approach, not a workfare approach. But it is important not to let a basic income, like tax credits, subsidise bad employers and let them get away with low wages. Rather than pulling labour standards down we need to sustain and improve wage levels, and put money into the pockets of the poorest. We need to use the purchasing power of the public sector to ensure a living wage level in all contractors’ work, like the living wage policy the Greens have pushed through in the GLA – all GLA contractors must pay at least £7.45 per hour. We should be doing this sort of thing rather than paying people like Greedy Goodwin a pension worth the JSA of 200 people.