Saturday 6 April 2013

Natalie Bennett delivers a dose of reality on welfare

 Natalie Bennett, Green Party leader, posted this article on the Huffington Post yesterday:

The government's stated aim in introducing the bedroom tax, in slashing of council tax benefit that forms a new poll tax, in ending of Disability Living Allowance and making a host of other benefit cuts is to 'make work pay'. That's utterly detached from the reality of the lives of the people that this cabinet of millionaires is airily playing with - and it's time to end this fantasy land politics.

Just start with the fact that the smaller social homes that the bedroom tax sufferers are supposed to move into simply don't exist. And as many have pointed out, the jobs that the government is telling benefit recipients to 'go out and get' also don't exist - 2.5 million people, 7.8% of the workforce, are looking for jobs, and there are about half a million vacancies.

In gross terms there are around five people chasing each job. Of course on the ground it is often much worse than that - when a new Tesco opened in Tynemouth there were more than 70 applicants for each of a handful of posts; when a new Costa opened in Nottingham, there were 1,700 applications for about eight jobs.
But even for those lucky enough to beat odds like these, the government is undercutting its stated aim - for it emerged yesterday that it is considering cutting the already seriously inadequate minimum wage. This at a time when inflation is again continuing to slash away at the already limited spending power of those at the bottom of society.

That's not 'making work pay'. In fact it's making living even less viable for millions.

And of course lots of those jobs being advertised are only part-time - not enough hours to satisfy Iain Duncan-Smith, who is pushing on with plans to 'force' low-paid workers to work more hours, ignoring the fact that one in 10 workers want more hours, but are unable to get them.

More than that, many of the jobs, particularly with larger companies, don't even offer regular hours. The cancer of zero-hours contracts is spreading fast - workers being treated like robots on a production line - machines to be switched on and off at the convenience of corporate profits. But robots don't need to pay the rent, to buy food, to heat their homes - and zero-hours contracts offer no guarantee of the ability to do any of those essential things - to make work liveable, let alone make it pay.

It's past time to say enough. To point out that, after Hans Christian, this is a Cabinet that is wearing no clothes. (Apologies to anyone eating while reading for that image.) David Cameron, George Osborne and Iain Duncan-Smith seem determined to ignore reality. In their fantasy world the economy is recovering, a few handfuls of multi-national companies, mostly employing minimum-wage workers on zero-hours contracts, can be the basis of a healthy economy around which communities can be built, people with severe long-term disabilities and illnesses can find jobs and live without public support.

It's time to deliver a dose of reality. A good start's been made by the more than 350,000 people who have told Iain Duncan Smith to try living on £53 a week. UK Uncut is also planning action on April 13 that will bring home to reality of eviction to more Cabinet ministers. But we need to go further. We need to deliver a message to every Cabinet member, every member of this fantasy land government. These are real lives they are playing with - real lives they are destroying.

We do need to make work pay, but we need to do that by ensuring every job pays at least a living wage, is stable and secure - is a job that you can build a life on, a job you can pay the rent and pay the bills on. And we need to provide benefits - decent benefits - that allow those who don't have their jobs to have a decent life.

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