Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The best laid plans

On Monday the Labour government presented its long-prepared plans to reduce benefits to the long-term unemployed and sick with a view to forcing them back to work for an employer. They have made it clear that they think that “too generous” payments for incapacity have undermined the proper functioning of the wages system by weakening the economic pressure compelling workers to sell their labour power to some employer to get money to buy the things they need to live.

Under the plan the Labour government hope to throw up to a million people off the welfare rolls and onto the labour market. But to work this requires that a million new jobs become available. This was over ambitious anyway but, unfortunately for them, their plan was announced just as the economy is entering its downturn phase, and perhaps the worst slump for many years, and think-tanks are predicting a steep rise in the number of unemployed over the next few years. For instance,

“The number of people out of work will reach two million by 2010, the highest level since the early days of new Labour, according to a think-tank. The unemployed number will rise from 1.6 million to 2 million for the first time since July 1997, according to the Ernst & Young ITEM club.” (Times, 21 July)

The reason why the unemployed benefit part of post-war Beveridge Plan eventually failed was that it was premised on an unemployment rate of 2-3 percent, whereas by the 1970s and 1980s this was more than twice that. The new plan is likely to fail for the same reason - a higher than anticipated levelof unemployment.

Not that this will really worry the government - or its successor - as, if the people thrown off incapacity benefit cannot find a job, they’ll move to the lower benefit paid to the unemployed. And so save the government money.

In any event, the whole episode is yet more evidence that Labour governments are just as anti-working class as the Tories, basically because all government, however well-intentioned towards workers (not that this one is), cannot make capitalist work in the interest of those forced to depend for a living on working for a wage or a salary.

If you accept responsibility for running the political affairs of the capitalist class, then you have to do their dirty work. Which the present Labour government has shown itself all too willing to do.

No comments: