It doesn’t do the job

(this blog initially appeared on the Guardian’s Comment is Free site)

At least its timing has not deserted the government. With unemployment surging through the 2m barrier today, perhaps heading for 3m, ministers were able to get their Welfare Reform bill out of the Commons on Tuesday before the Grim Reaper published his figures.

I spoke in total opposition to the bill. The bill was designed for the land of the never-ending boom. We are now stuck in the quagmire of recession.

The government has been axing Jobcentre Plus offices, and cutting staff, as though there is no tomorrow. Now my constituents face a situation of a much-reduced Jobcentre Plus service, and a massive increase in the demands placed on that service.

But what are those demands? Good, upstanding citizens, who have worked practically every day of their lives since leaving school or college, now find themselves with the increasing numbers who have been made redundant.

They are not interested in the highfalutin’ supply side of things that the government has been concentrating on over the last ten years or so. None of them are work-shy. Work is part of their DNA. Yet they will be subjected to the same old roughing-up treatment that the government has been half-heartedly applying for a decade to claimants it suspects of being half-hearted in trying to find a job.

These men and women who have been made redundant, perhaps for the first time, expected that their NI contributions would offer a soft landing so that they can scramble back into work. And by “scramble back”, I mean it – the desperation is real: studies show that unemployed people with good work records often take a job paying far less than their previous role, as work is a central part of their dignity and self-confidence.

Our proud boast when we were elected in 1997 was that we would reform the welfare state to meet the new strains and stresses of a global economy. Now, at the feast promised by pegging into the global economy, we have an unwanted ghost wearing the ugly face of 1930s unemployment.

A Welfare Reform bill aiming to help counter the recession would have centred on two points. It would have reformed the redundancy payment scheme to make the payments adequate, so that our newly-unemployed constituents are compensated. Lindsey Hoyle, the Member for Chorley, introduced such a bill last Friday, only to find the government attempting to block it.

Similarly, instead of drawing up more measures to get the supposed work-shy into work, the government should have been radically overhauling the National Insurance-based Jobseekers’ Allowance. People around the country are complaining to me of being gobsmacked when signing on for the first time and finding that not only do their decades of insurance contributions qualify them for a mere £60.50 a week – exactly the same as if they had never gone to work in the first place – but that Jobcentre Plus skills are not honed to helping them get jobs.

Ever since Balanced Migration was established, we have campaigned for a revolution on the issuing of work permits. Approximately 150,000 skilled workers came into this country from outside the EU during the past year. Not one of these applications was tested by insisting that jobs were first advertised at Jobcentre Plus.

Whisper it, but in the last few days, the government has made a most welcome u-turn. From April 1, no work permits will be issued unless the jobs have been advertised at Jobcentre Plus for two weeks. Here is a real achievement. British jobs will first be offered to unemployed British workers.

Here is one really good piece of news showing the government doing its best to protect British workers. Why aren’t the prime minister and all his colleagues singing this message from the rooftops?


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