George Osborne is pulling rank on Iain Duncan Smith and is expected to announce yet another pie in the sky mass workfare scheme this morning. Whilst at the time of writing the current plans for forced labour are not fully clear, it is likely they will be based on two recent reports from hard right think tanks promoting unpaid work.
The first came from the Tax Payer’s Alliance (TPA) and was the kind of swivel-eyed nonsense that might be expected from a bunch of Jeremy Clarkson wannabes with too much time on their hands. The second, from the Policy Exchange, was more nuanced, even going so far as to attack the TPA’s workfare plans as prohibitively expensive – an embarrassing assessment of a report written by a group who pretend their main focus is on saving the tax payer money.
The arguments for the Policy Exchange’s plan – which is six months workfare for some, but not all claimants – are easily demolished, mostly by the fact that this was recently tried and failed dismally. It is the survey on which the Policy Exchange’s report is based however that grabbed the headlines and is likely to be used justify Osborne’s plans.
“Everyone should be made to work for their benefits except mothers with young children” thundered the blurb for the report on the Policy Exchange website. Only 22% of people say disabled people should be exempt the think-tank proclaimed.
In a truly astonishing performance, the Policy Exchange then proceeded to distance themselves from the braying mob and attempted to portray themselves as the reasonable ones. “Did you see our public polling on this, frightening” said Policy Exchange Head of Economics Matthew Oakley on twitter, his fake liberal facade dripping with concern at the savagery of the general public. The Policy Exchange themselves do not support workfare for sick and disabled people they re-assured us, despite the fact that sick and disabled people can already be forced to work without pay on the Work Programme they love so much.
Instead the Policy Exchange only propose six months unpaid work for some groups of mainstream unemployed claimants. Aren’t they just Santa’s fucking little helpers.
Yet the general public’s opinions on workfare have been grossly distorted by the nature of the questions asked in this survey – of which there were only two according to Oakley who has promised to publish the full details of the poll later this week.
The first question asked whether people thought “The government should require people who are unemployed for 12 months or more to do community work in return for their state benefits.”
The truth is that only just over half agreed at 56%. But the public were not asked if this workfare should be full time. In fact it does not even specify that the work should be unpaid – previous workfare schemes have come with a top up payment to benefits attached. Whilst those engrossed in welfare policy might assume workfare to mean 30 hours a week, every week, without pay, there’s no reason a survey respondent would think that. They might think yes, they should volunteer in an old people’s home for an afternoon a week, or do a couple of days a month helping out in the local park, for reasonable expenses. This 56% in no way gives a mandate for full time unpaid workfare, especially as the other options given to respondents were a version of Labour’s phony job guarantee scheme or maintaining the status quo, which almost no-one ever wants when it comes to Government policy.
The second question is even more dubious. The Policy Exchange are attempting to use the answers to this question to claim that only 22% of the public support disabled people being exempt from workfare. That incidentally is disabled people “who are capable of working” – another devious phrase as who is and isn’t capable of working is clearly open to debate as the Atos scandal has shown. The obvious inference from this figure is that 78% of the public support workfare for disabled people. Yet in question 1 only 56% of people support workfare for anyone at all. There must be something going on to explain this bizarre discrepancy.
Question 2 asks respondents to imagine that compulsory workfare exists and then questions who should be exempt. Now a disabled person completing this survey may think well if I have to do workfare then why shouldn’t a lone parent, and vice versa. That doesn’t mean they support workfare, it means they support equality, of a sort.
There is no option available for those who think that everyone should be exempt from workfare, although it is possible to answer that every group of claimants should undertake unpaid work. And so in yet another dirty trick, the Policy Exchange are pretending that just because someone ticks a box saying single mothers with children should be exempt from compulsory workfare in this imaginary world, that means they support it for everyone else in the real world. But that isn’t what they were asked.
Had the Policy Exchange been honest then they would have only asked those 56% of people who agreed with workfare who they felt should be exempt from unpaid work. But that would not have given the results they wanted or justified the accompanying staged shock horror at the results of the survey.
It is even possible that the entire poll is bogus, although this is almost certainly down to sheer incompetence rather than any attempt to further hijack the poll. One of the options given in Question 1 is: “The government should maintain the status quo, whereby those who are employed for 12 months or more continue to be paid state benefits while they search for work.”
This is the only option available for those who oppose both Tory and Labour workfare other than ‘don’t know’ or ‘none of these’. And due to what appears to be a typo, this option suggests people should be given unemployment benefits even after being in work for 12 months. Matthew Oakley says he doesn’t know whether this error, which appears in the report, also appears in the poll. He said he will check with yougov. And then he went quiet on the subject. He’s on twitter @PXEconomics if you fancy asking him about it.
The Policy Exchange report is available at: http://policyexchange.org.uk/images/publications/work%20fair.pdf
A statement on Osborne’s workfare plans from Boycott Workfare can be found at: http://www.boycottworkfare.org/?p=3018
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