Un-Welfare State

Sorry if you came here for the usual drivel about games, today I’m angrily bumbling my way through politics. 

Finally, a junior minister has come up with a new way to make the work-shy sofa lovers of England drag themselves to the job centre! The brainwave: turn Job Seeker’s Allowance into a  quasi-loan. That’s from a new book by Conservative MP Kwasi Kwarteng – who the BBC describes as a “rising star of the right” and it’s exactly the sort of big society thinking that we’ve come to dread from the party of the privileged. While it is not a government policy – merely a recommendation – it yet again highlights the callous vein that runs throughout our government when it comes to welfare

Honestly, it sounds like it was written by someone who’s never been unemployed and – more importantly – doesn’t understand there’s more to unemployment than money. This government loves to talk about the welfare state as if it’s a giant lottery for the slovenly unemployed or – even worse – work dodging young adults.


The general, condescending attitude usually being that you should wander into the world and take a job. Any job. We’re spending too much money on you – let’s ignore the fact that the IFS figures that only 14% of the national budget is spent on working age benefits which include working tax benefits and child tax credits, which have naff all to do with unemployment  – and you need to pull your weight.

Let’s have a quick look at what Mr. Kwarteng has to say, according to the BBC:

The book says the government should “look at other ways to encourage work – while making sure that the system is not cruel to those who have simply been unlucky”.

So much to chew on there. Firstly, there’s the classic assumption that people on Job Seeker’s need encouragement to find work. It’s an insidious idea that’s become embedded into the national subconscious – best illustrated in this video from my hometown of Nuneaton. There are clearly people who now equate unemployment to laziness, but hey stereotypes are fun and they’re not going anywhere. Down the job centre, ya lazy arse.

Then there’s the fact there is nobody who’s unemployed is getting a fair deal, because unemployment is more than lack of income. It’s a set of circumstances that can lead to serious health problems. This proposal and the prevailing attitude towards the welfare state completely ignores the mental health issues that unemployment can foster and worsen. This NHS article giving an idea what role unemployment can play in depression.

Depression is an illness that saps every ounce of your emotional energy, making a person who suffers it feel like they’re not worthy of the world around them. This is only exacerbated by unemployment, a time characterized by the metronomic flood of job applications and deflating letters of “candidates better suited to this role”. Seeing a GP can give you options to treat depression, but it doesn’t deal with the root cause. You need to be your best self to get work. Depression makes it very hard to be that.

So when I say these proposals are written by someone whose never been employed, its because they seem determined to cultivate the feeling of hopelessness that I felt when I was unemployed. In a YouGuv poll published in 2014, 9% of young unemployed people surveyed said “they had nothing to live for”. Treating people who were in the same situation as myself as loanees isn’t going to motivate them, it’s going to tighten that feeling of pessimism and depression.

Unemployment is more than lazy people choosing not to work and getting more money than people want them to. Its complexity isn’t going to be solved by punishing those who reach out for help and forcing more young people into decade-spanning debt. Maybe it’s time we paid attention to the symptoms to help fix the cause.


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