At first glance, that headline might seem shamelessly hyperbolic or crass, and is at the very least clickbait. That is until you’re made aware of David Cameron’s latest tirade against benefit claimants (which has already claimed the lives of 60 people and targeted the mentally ill and disabled).
Cameron’s new proposal finds a new scapegoat to blame society’s ills on – the young. Decrying what he calls the “well worn path from the school gate [to] a life on benefits”, the Prime Minister announced that 18-21 year olds who have been out of work for 6 months will be barred from claiming any benefits, unless they agree to undertake 30 hours of community service.
You’d be forgiven for thinking this effectively criminalizes benefit claims and treats the young unemployed like youth offenders, but Cameron is at least willing to pay these young people for their services: £57.35 a week, for 30 hours week. In case you need help with the maths, that works out at £1.91 per hour, or £4.59 below the minimum wage.
The proposals would abolish Jobseeker’s Allowance for this age group and replace it with the “Youth Allowance”. But young people won’t just be made to do community service, they’ll also have to spend 10 hours a week looking for a job under government supervision, effectively rendering their whole life mute while they search for a job and work for a pittance.
Cameron has no respect or love for the minimum wage. His government has no plans to increase it to £8 like Labour have promised, or £10 like the Greens have promised, so it’s no wonder he shows such callous disregard towards young people in this instance.
For all his protestations that proposals like these help people to lead healthy and fulfilling lives, it is more akin to punishing people for having the audacity to be unemployed in a job market that is fraught with potholes. Unemployment numbers may have gone down under the Tories, but wages have stagnated and the cost of living has gotten entirely out of hand.
But equally, it is a myth to think that benefits are an easy alternative. Benefits are wholly inadequate to survive on, and kept people just above the poverty line before Cameron slashed at them like a madman, let alone after his vicious cuts.
It would be one thing if Cameron provided real incentives to work like giving people a national pay rise, and made sure that the minimum wage allows for a comfortable life as opposed to mere survival, but he hasn’t. He expects young people, disabled people, and mentally ill people to pull themselves together in some magical way and find a magical job using a magic wand. He doesn’t care if the Jobcentre is a degrading, humiliating experience which damages people’s self-esteem and reduces their drive for work. He doesn’t care if people have died or committed suicide after having their benefits stopped whilst being declared “fit for work”. All he has is this gung-ho attitude where everybody is capable of work, which sees any unemployed person as a lazy moocher, because he’s never wanted for anything in his life. I doubt he’s ever seen the inside of a Jobcentre, notwithstanding PR stunts of course.
The how’s and when’s and why’s do not concern a man like Cameron, who has never gone hungry or never endured economic desperation, so it’s no surprise that he is completely out of touch where benefits are concerned. What his government should have done is made work pay, instead of squeeze benefit claimants in the hope they’ll miraculously find work. Cutting one person’s income does not guarantee that another person’s income will rise. Cameron’s benefit cuts have not made working people’s lives easier, and have only made benefit claimants’ lives harder.
Starving benefit claimants and letting working people languish under stagnant wages is a volatile economic cocktail which will only cause more untold suffering on people who have suffered enough. Cameron’s proposals will not help people. They are lazy, self-righteous proposals which are akin to class cleansing.