How I feel about Atos, Workfare, and Benefit Sanctions

Today, I am ashamed to be British, European, and in a way, to be human. A travesty is occurring under our noses.

Atos, workfare, and benefit sanctions are a disgusting evil in the world today.  Overreaction? Liberal nonsense? Stay with me.

Benefit Sanctions

Yes, we are in a recession. It’s bad for both rich and poor. Yes, we have a large unemployment problem costing us huge amounts of money. There may even be (and I seriously doubt it, but bear with me) a culture of laziness. A work-shy section of the population who do not want to work.  What should we do? There may even be disabled people who should be working. I think I even agree with that.

Now laziness isn’t the worst crime in the world. Murder is worse. What do we do with citizens of our country when they murder?  We lock them away from society, then when justice has been done in that way, we feed them, and clothe them. Why do we feed them?

Because not to do so would be disgusting.  It doesn’t matter what they’ve done, we give them a fair trial, and we feed them.

So for a country to remove access to food for nothing more than laziness is despicable.  The punishment doesn’t fit the crime.

There’s also another reason why we feed criminals. It’s because our justice system sometimes fails, and innocent people are jailed. We never know if a piece of crucial evidence will turn up and set a conviction on it’s head. When that happens, it may be horrible, but at least we didn’t starve them. So, if just one family who wants to work is sanctioned and goes hungry, the system has failed completely.

What do we do with lazy people?  We feed them. Why? Because not to do so is reprehensible. Benefit sanctions are simply wrong.

As far as I can see, there is a much bigger cause of unemployment – there are simply not enough jobs to go around.  In 2011, the figures stood around 5 unemployed people to every job.  It was about 6 people to a job when I last looked.  Every unskilled job that is advertised WILL be filled. However, forcing lazy people to look for work under those circumstances means that people who do want to work have to compete with people who don’t.

Is this how we want our workforce built? People driving our buses, making our coffees and working alongside us who don’t want to be there? A lax attitude is more of a problem in the world of work than on the dole queue!

Until there’s actually enough jobs for everyone, any argument about a culture of “expectation” is moot.  Any chase after “lazy” people is a complete and utter waste of your tax money. You want to know something?  We need more engineers. How about some entry-level training and some decent apprenticeships for all? It’s not like there isn’t other work to be done, either. Hospitals need built. Schools, roads, housing, that sort of thing.  These are all jobs, create them, and fill them.

We need to stop throwing tax money after a cause that is a simple mathematical impossibility (not enough jobs), and instead, work on raising the number of available jobs, and provide the training in fields that are crying out for workers. Duh.

When everybody who wants a job can get one, and there’s enough education and opportunities for everybody, then we’ll be able to know exactly how many real lazy people there are. Until then, it’s a ridiculous waste of public money.

Even if there were millions of lazy people, “milking the system” – why should their families be penalised?  Why can’t children of “lazy” parents grow up with food in their stomachs and a productive future?

And where does these “lazy” people’s free money go?  Into shops. Food, drink, cigarettes, electricity, gas, phone bills, nappies, petrol… Other industries who need customers to pay their employees. Who all pay income tax. It makes no sense to make our poorest citizens even poorer. Perhaps if they were industrious, and not lazy, they might be growing and catching their own food, brewing their own tax-free beer and saving their benefit money for holidays abroad.  The irony is, if everybody did that, we’d be ruined.

Poor nutrition brings poor health. If a sanction makes one person ill, we’re talking thousands of pounds worth of healthcare costs – to the taxpayer.  Poverty and desperation also causes crime. Which is also incredibly expensive to the taxpayer.

If there are any lazy people in society, it makes sense to simply give them a little money to live on and put back into the economy, and leave them be.

The Workfare Program

What about workfare?  Surely it makes good sense to give someone the “experience” of work, make them give back to the community, for their welfare?

No. Compulsory unpaid labour is slavery. “Oh, but it’s not compulsory!” People say. That is nonsense. A benefit sanction threat is a threat of hunger. Working under the threat of hunger is slavery. It just is. You won’t change my mind on that, and if you support unpaid labour under the threat of punishment by hunger, you are a disgusting human being in my eyes, and you should redeem yourself now somehow.

If you’re still thinking “why should my taxes feed the lazy?”, think about this: for-profit companies are using workfare labour, for free. If workfare labour is available, why advertise for paid positions at all? Congratulations, now a big company can profit from your taxes, and the number of people on benefits stays the same.

Yes, companies have been laying off paid staff, and conscripting (under threat of hunger) these people without giving them jobs. Some people have even ended up workfaring in the same companies they were laid off from. Living off your taxes, when they could be living off the company’s payroll. Poundland, Shoezone, Asda, the list goes on.

So although the government is claiming unemployment is down, it does nothing at all to the amount of public money spent on welfare. Public money goes down, and the number of available paid jobs also goes down. It’s a lose-lose situation. In fact, it’s already cost us millions to try and implement.

Did I mention that many people believe it’s also ethically revolting?

As work experience, it leaves out the one experience that really gives a person work satisfaction – the pay-cheque. It’s mainly uninspired drudgery.  Stacking shelves and sweeping floors. That is NOT going to cure anybody of laziness.

It’s also an echo of the indentured labour that spawned full-on slavery in America, and of prison colonies, and a Dickensian work-house Britain.  These are parts of our history we’re ashamed of, and rightly so.

So, with starving our poor countrymen and slave-labour under our national belt (remember, there still aren’t enough actual jobs), a campaign which is costing money while deepening the welfare crisis, here’s Atos.

Atos – Compounding the Problem

Atos is an IT company, paid lots and lots of taxpayers money to decide which of our currently signed off citizens (signed off by doctors), are actually fit for work.

The list of sick and disabled people living under threat of sanction is growing. Yes, people with cerebral palsy are being used as slave labour under the threat of hunger. And jobs are scarce enough as it is for people who CAN work.

The crazy thing is, there are sick and disabled people who actually want to work, and can! But now they have to compete with other disabled “job-seekers” being forced into work for no pay. Disabled and sick people can be productive and successful if given every chance to be. Most of them even want to!

So, if there are no jobs, it’s all a big waste of money, and it’s damaging lives – why the hell is it happening?  Emotions. Anger, frustration, revenge. Irrational, childish, human emotions. Honestly, this “culture of expectation” stuff. Are they psychic? Do they know what poor people are thinking? No. Laziness? Prove it or shut up.

The country’s in trouble. People see others living on benefits while they work hard for very little. But while it may be frustrating, this angry revenge war on poor people is not going to help. There simply needs to be more jobs. If there isn’t we feed the poor, no questions asked.

Because the alternative is disgusting.

All Moaning, and No Offer of Solution?

So what can we do about the unemployment figures? First, we can look at other ways to make money.  Like prisons.  No, not prison labour (although I have nothing against that as long as it’s voluntary and paid). I mean the ridiculous amount of people in prison who are of no threat to society.  Release them all. They’re a huge drain on resources.  Honestly, they’re cheaper for the taxpayer on the dole than in prison.  Tag them if you have to, fine them, whatever. But if they don’t need to be locked away from the rest of us, what’s the point?

Tax the rich! It sounds obvious to some, but it’s complex. Big companies like tax breaks for encouragement to set up in a country, which brings jobs and overall wealth. Fine, I understand that, but don’t be a tax haven about it!  We need to change the laws and loopholes that allow companies like Starbucks to pay only two percent tax.

They’re not breaking the law, either, so I can’t judge them for that. It’s the laws themselves that need to be changed.  And taxing the rich only has to go on long enough to sort us out.  When the economy is better again, the well-off can enjoy tax breaks and bonuses. But not while the poor are going hungry and there are no jobs.

As for laziness, I personally do not believe that a healthy person wants to sit around all day and do nothing. I have never met a “lazy” person. I’ve met people worried that getting a minimum-wage job will make their family worse off. I’ve even met people who are learning skills in their own time because they would never thrive in a “normal” job. A lot of people on benefits also volunteer for charities. Not really laziness.

Try these things first:-

1. Fill the vacancies we do have properly. Big data is growing, tech companies are on the climb. Programmers, engineers, and system administrators are needed. So some basic training and apprenticeships are the way forward.

2. Make some jobs. Population is growing, do we have enough schools, teachers, hospitals? Can we encourage foreign businesses better? I could forgive a large company for (legal) tax dodging if it was using that money to create good jobs with training and prospects, and everybody involved was paying fair income tax. There may be no jobs, but there is work to be done. Whose fault is that?

3. Rearrange the benefits system. Feed, house, and clothe the poor, maybe with a food stamp system, but also a little cash to encourage saving and spending in the economy. Add a little bonus for those looking for work. Add a little more for those on training schemes. Make working beneficial with a logarithmic scale, so a two-hour job still pays well, and so that millionaires don’t get child benefit.  As soon as somebody can afford to live without benefits, they can be removed from the system. After that, it’s capitalism all the way up. With taxes high when the economy needs it, and low when it can afford it. Give all poor people the same basic level of support and dignity, whether they’re sick, able and willing, just plain lazy, or even a criminal.

4. Sort out the lazy. Only when all the above are sorted, mind (feed everyone!). To be honest, I’m not even convinced there are real lazy people. Depression, confusion, sickness, dejected hopelessness, or simply being a dedicated stay-at-home parent can all look like laziness to the outside observer. But assuming there are lazy people, what do we do with them? First, we look at what they do do.  Do they sit around all day playing guitar? Would they like a course in recording? Can they teach? Can we give people small, casual jobs where they’re allowed to keep the money?

It’s important, even if you think laziness is wrong, to remember that scientific consensus in every field relevant finds punishment ineffective, and a reward system to be better. This is true of animals, of children, of criminals, and lazy people. “You tried work? Well done. Here’s some money. How does that feel? Come back if you want more.”

And it’s not like there aren’t jobs for “lazy” people!  Night watchmen, firemen, receptionists – all involve, and sometimes require, sitting doing nothing. An efficient datacentre administrator will have automated everything, and will sit around doing nothing, poised for emergency. I’m not saying these people are really lazy at all, they work hard and deserve their money, but if chilling with your mates shooting pool for most of the time with a bit of excitement thrown in sounds good, and you like to keep fit, it may be that you’re not work-shy, you’re a potential fireman. Like to work hard but don’t want to be tied down to just two weeks holiday a year?  Work in a school!  There’s a job for everybody, if only people could be given a little assistance and a little hope.

Rockstar North just advertised for “video games testers”. I mean, come on. Ask every “unwilling” person you find if there was one thing they would work their arse off at, and ask yourself if such a job exists, and if it does, help them to it. Reward good behaviour with hard cash, and watch unemployment drop. Many people who were previously unemployable have gone on to be successful entrepreneurs, creating jobs that didn’t exist. What can we do for these people? Training courses. Apprenticeships and on-job training.

So that’s it. Stop Atos, stop workfare, stop benefit sanctions. It’s not good for the rich, or the poor, or the nation itself. It’s not good for keeping the peace, and it’s not good for capitalism, it’s costing the taxpayer money, it doesn’t solve the problem, and it’s based purely on a perception of what poor people are thinking.  It’s nonsense.

It’s also a lugubrious blot on our history, and that’s the real reason why I’m taking this stance on the subject. I think it is inhumane, and I believe that anybody who thinks it’s a good idea now will be ashamed of themselves in years to come.