Gale`s View 19th September 2012
East Kent is, we are told by the Office of National Statistics, one of the hot-spots where there is a significant number of households in which not one person is employed.
Nationally there has been, in the past two years, a 25% reduction in the number of such households and that trend is continuing as more people are employed than ever before and as unemployment is falling.
Clearly, a number of people have moved from benefit to employment through legitimising jobs that were being undertaken while benefit was also being drawn and the end of that fraud – for that is what it is – is a very good thing.
It is also most certainly the case that there is a significant number of people, mainly in early middle age, who vigorously continue to seek work but for whom there are no suitable vacancies available and it would be both wrong and foolish to tar those people with the workshy” brush. We have to make a still greater and more determined effort to treat each and every one of them as an individual not a statistic and to assist them to find work as swiftly as possible.
There are, though, still far too many people who choose not to work. I have cited in the past the case of Thanet Earth – and there are other such companies – who have found it well-nigh impossible to recruit British labour and who, notwithstanding the present shortage of jobs in East Kent, have found it necessary to look to eastern Europe to recruit the not inconsiderable number of staff that they need.
In a low-wage economy there remains the disincentive that suggests that it is more profitable” to claim benefit than to go to work, particularly if that benefit income can be topped up with a little moonlighting on the side. Not only can we not afford the luxury of paying people to do nothing when there are community tasks that could and should be done in return for income but it is also grossly unfair to the hard working, tax-paying, socially responsible, proud and dignified majority who get up and go to work every day. It is their taxes that pay the benefits of those who choose not to work.
There was, you will recall, something of an outcry when it was suggested that there should be a cap on benefits set at £26,000. Representing, as it does, an earned income of about £35,000 before tax that represents a figure far ,far higher than very many of my own constituents currently earn for a full week`s work and I see no reason why it should automatically be assumed that their taxes should continue to keep others in idleness.
Workfare”, as it has become known, is not a new concept. It requires that instead of receiving benefits those who are able to work – and I accept entirely that for a variety of good reasons there are those who cannot do so – will be paid a wage, set preferably slightly above the benefit level, to engage in the many and varied community-related tasks and activities that go by default and neglect and, because public finances are limited, do not receive the attention that they need.
There is a potentially virtuous circle of work experience for the young unemployed, community benefit and a restoration of dignity and the work ethic that is not just a viable but an essential ingredient in the move back towards lower unemployment.
I do not want to see figures massaged”. I am perfectly content to see Workfare placements included in the figures for unemployment purposes. I do, though, believe that taxpayers, which includes many pensioners as well as low-wage employees, have a right to see something in return for their money and if that leads to a reduction in the black economy” then that, also, will be to be welcomed..