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The unemployed are the new paedophiles

Posted on April 26, 2010 by

Clue: it’s not because they like having sex with children.

It’s because, along with the war in Afghanistan, they’re one of the only two major campaigning issues on which there isn’t even a manufactured illusion of disagreement between the three main parties standing in the General Election of 2010. Everyone is singing in perfect harmony from the same hymn sheet on this one: the unemployed are dangerous and despicable criminals.

And not just criminals, of course. The media routinely portrays anyone out of work as an evil, lazy scrounger, committed to bleeding taxpayers dry while laughing openly in their faces to add insult to injury.

Disgusting as it is, it’s a clever strategy which appeals to both ends of the political spectrum simultaneously. It feeds the prejudices of the wealthy and fortunate, whose mantra is that anyone can become rich if they work hard, and that therefore anyone who’s poor MUST by definition be a feckless idler worthy only of contempt. But it also strikes a chord with the working poor, who see themselves struggling to pay ever-soaring bills despite toiling away diligently at low-paid jobs, and feel cheated that their hard work leaves them seemingly worse off than those on benefits doing nothing.

So while traditionally it’s been the Tories who vilify and persecute the poor, the other parties have in recent years also woken up to the fact that there are some easy votes to be had by attacking society’s most vulnerable people.

(The Lib Dems have in fact been mostly quiet over the issue, except to accept the need for “drastic reform” and chip at a few small corners of Labour’s 2009 reform bill where it concerned the disabled.)

The poor tend to vote Labour anyway, so the Tories and Lib Dems have nothing to lose by picking on them, while Labour cynically realises that the corrupt electoral system protects their urban heartlands. (Even if a third of the Labour vote in an inner-city seat switches in desperation to the BNP or just stays at home, the Labour candidate will still have a majority of thousands.)

This means that Labour can safely make a play for Daily Mail votes in marginal Middle England constituencies – the only ones that actually matter under FPTP – by hitting out at the poor, while running no electoral risk, because even if poor people are angry at being betrayed by Labour for 13 years they essentially have nowhere else to go.

Making scapegoats out of the unemployed, then, is politically a win-win scenario. Since most of them live in urban constituencies they have no electoral voice, while there are massive potential gains from pillorying them. At the same time, of course, the attack can be cloaked in the language of concern, under the pretence of helping the “deserving” unemployed back into work while cracking down on the “scroungers”.

The only problem with this approach is that the numbers don’t add up.

Unemployment statistics in the modern UK comprise a bewildering array of figures. There are headline unemployment totals, “claimant counts”, people who are “economically inactive” and a whole slew of other categories whose meanings are opaque and never explained. They’re published by the government’s Office for National Statistics, so let’s see if we can make some sense of them.

The figures for April 2010 run as follows:

(people looking for work and claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance)
1.544 million

(includes JSA claimants plus people who are unemployed and actively seeking work, but are ineligible for JSA for a variety of reasons, eg they have more than a certain amount of savings or a partner who is in work. Something I didn’t know before writing this feature was that this “headline” unemployment figure, the one that’s always quoted on the news, is actually an estimate. It’s arrived at by extrapolating a labour-market survey, albeit a very large one which covers around 50,000 households.)
2.502 million

(this figure is for people of working age, who are not working but also not looking for work for any number of undetermined reasons eg being a stay-at-home parent. It does NOT include the unemployed who are actively seeking work.)
8.16 million

(people not in work because they’re deemed too ill. While the figures for economic inactivity take no account of receipt of benefits, it’s likely that most of these people are included in the inactivity total)
2.7 million

Of the incapacitated, approximately 1 million are said by both Labour and the Tories to actually be fit for work. All existing recipients of Incapacity Benefit, and all new claimants of its replacement Employment Support Allowance, are currently being subjected to vigorous re-testing rules designed to get them off incapacity benefits and onto JSA wherever possible. (As JSA pays significantly less money.)

So sorting through that lot, what we find is that there are somewhere in the region of 3.5 million people in the UK who are currently out of a job and expected to go and find one. Which leads us conveniently to the number of jobs there actually are for them to find:

0.475 millon.

This is another survey-based figure, and the ONS does not research which of these vacancies are full-time, but a reply I received from the Department  for Work and Pensions via my local MP last year suggested that between 30 and 35% of available vacancies were part-time.

Taking the midpoint of that estimate leaves us approximately 0.318 million full-time positions to divide among the 3.5 million unemployed.

Or in other words, assuming you meet all the qualifying criteria for every job, and assuming for the sake of argument that jobs and applicants are distributed evenly across the country (which of course they’re not), then you’ve still got less than a 10% chance of finding full-time work.

(Obviously, that doesn’t mean if you apply for 10 jobs you’ll get one of them. It’s a game of musical chairs, where there are fewer and fewer targets with every successive round and the odds get progressively worse as more vacancies are filled and additional people are made unemployed. That 9% chance is the likelihood of you EVER finding a job, not the chance of getting any specific one you apply for.)

So the unemployed, no matter how much they might WANT to work, face (at least) a 91% failure rate. Sucks, right? But apparently that’s not a bleak enough prospect for our political representatives. Apparently failing to beat those odds in fact means that you’re “refusing” work, and that means trouble.

Because being unlucky in Britain is about to become essentially a criminal offence. Community service is normally a punishment meted out to minor or first-offence criminals, but whether the next Prime Minister is Labour or Tory that punishment is going to be extended to the merely unfortunate who can’t find work – society’s new ultimate villains.

The only difference is that if you beat up an old lady or knock someone down in your car and kill them, you’ll get a lighter sentence.

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16 to “The unemployed are the new paedophiles”

  1. Klatrymadon

    Cracking article. It's also making me feel approximately 2700% luckier for having recently found full-time work, after almost a year of unemployment (and probably over a hundred utterly miserable, futile hours spent at the local Jobcentre).

  2. Nixon

    It's probably even more depressing than the bare statistics show – if you remove the first assumption you made, that everyone's qualified for each job, and instead factor in that there are some really qualified, educated, experienced people fighting for those same jobs (especially with the influx of relatively-recently-sacked recession victims) then some people's chances are slightly better, but obvously that means a lot more people's chances are a FUCK of a lot worse, because if they lack qualifications or experience – not even objectively, just relative to the other applicants – they're now dropped several slots down the pecking order for any job.
    This in turn just makes it even easier to demonise the downtrodden poorest – who become more and more hopelessly unemployable each day just by the moving of the goalposts – by being able to point to the thin crust of well-qualified applicants who do manage to get new jobs.  "Look, THEY managed it, therefore you're not trying.  Community service for you, sonny."

    Of course, once Mr Re-Motivated applies for his first job following his stint of mandated "motivational" community service, I'm sure the employers will just be queuing up to hire someone with the equivalent of "LONG-TERM SCROUNGER SCUM" written in big red letters across the part of their CV that explains what they've been doing for the last six months.

  3. Adam

    Good read.
    I've seen a lot of the bad end of this too. I can remember my father (now elderly and retired), who was on incapacity benefits, being told his case was to be "reviewed". He had a lot of medical problems which rendered him unable to do a lot of the things he wanted to do. He was told by the examining doctor working for the benefits agency/government to pick up a ten pound bag of potatoes, which he did (his arms are fine and he's still a big bloke). Because he could manage this he was declared "fit for work". As if any job involves picking up a bag once a day and putting it down within the minute. This is despite the fact that even this brief visit to the doctor and the walking and stairs involved left him knackered at the end of the day. There's no way he could manage even a four hour shift at a desk, much to his own irritation. Between the medication he needs for pain and other problems and the wear and tear he simply didn't have the energy.
    Now you'd expect a doctor to take these (documented and medicated) problems into account in an evaluation. Not so. Turned out that the (I think social worker) helping him with the appeal knew this doctor and his reputation. The doctor took great pride in never passing anyone as unfit. Ever. Lots of people have appealed successfully, but this man continues on never, ever recognising that some are unfit, no matter what. Despite this known behaviour the doctor still has his position and was hated by the social workers for his uncaring attitude.I
    I can also remember long-term unemployed being refused training (and laughed at) because they were "too old" (for using computers, I think), despite displaying a keen interest in the area and attempts to self-educate, and so was left to rot on benefits and discouraged.
    This happened many years ago, so I can only imagine how much worse it must be with the ever increasing pressure they are bringing to bear on the poor and unfortunate. Treating them like criminals and blaming them for the problems are just distractions for everyone's anger at the way everything seems to be going wrong.
    Anyone that's seen the job centre's advertised jobs would know that many of them are for half hour a week cleaning or something equally worthless or are very suspect jobs that seem on a par with those "make millions from your home!!!" adverts or very temporary positions (I've seen some advertised as lasting a couple fo weeks). I'm glad I'm  one of the fortunate ones to have a (relatively) secure job, but I understand the misery of the system for millions of others. It simply is not as easy as they are making it out to be to get meaningful employment.

  4. Adam

    The "hard work always pays off so anyone poor is a disgusting lazy scrounger" line is a contemptible lie, but is an easy justification for those who managed to get their nose in the trough to avoid feeling guilty, ignore any moral or ethical issues and to instead despise those who were not so fortunate. Hard work is important, but pretending that there's ever been anything fair in the rewards for it is just wrong.
    As if the people treated as peasants and serfs were never used and abused.
    The massive tax evasion and dodgy trading in the London markets and banking system that continues unabated are much bigger targets that mysteriously seem to be untouched by any of the main party politicians. The losses with these dwarf even the most pessimistic claims for benefit fraud. Of course the fraudsters that steal millions are left alone because they can bribe someone. The person on £65 a week (fraudster or not) makes a good target as they don't have the money to buy influence.
    As we already spend far more trying to catch benefit fraudsters than is taken by the fraudsters (meaning all these non-contributing snooper jobs don't pay for themselves, they cost a lot) I'd imagine even more efforts to catching these people is going to mean even less in return for a higher expenditure, as diminishing returns is usually the rule. They might spend a ton and catch a handful more (and possibly pad it out with a few innocents who can't prove otherwise), but it won't plug any holes in the economy.

  5. tssk

    Our opposition leader in Oz seeing the line the Tories are running tried it down here. (His ideas were "no dole for the under 30's" and "no dole after 6 months.") Unfortunately for him the recession has affected so many people that even right wingers on right wing discussion sites criticised it as simplistic and possibly damaging to society. Surprised it's even getting a look in the UK.

  6. RevStu

    Didn't he also basically want all the unemployed to be forced to go and work in the mines in Western Australia or something?

  7. tssk

    Yes he did. But the mining industry wasn't too happy with that. They want skilled labour. Geologists and heavy machine operators. Add to that the financial climate in mining towns where even the rent would make tenants in Sydney or London faint in horror.

    Very ill thought out and oddly enough something that got next to no traction politically.

  8. Nixon

    Also, I'd hazard a guess that the tiny sub-section of unemployed claimants who genuinely are workshy and feckless, the "scroungers" that this idea is supposedly meant to punish, are the exact same sub-section of unemployed claimants least likely to go meekly along to their newly-created litter-picking "jobs" when they're told, just so some Mail readers can feel self-satisfied when they see the pictures.
    Also also, what proportion of the would-be starved-into-work are likely to just say "oh, fuck off" and move into the exciting and rather more lucrative field of street crime, thus costing the Good Honest English Taxpayer loads more money than if they'd just doubled everyone's benefits anyway?

  9. joncfc

    And yet even now there are hundreds of people camping in calais waiting for the opportunity to smuggle themselves into the UK.
    We have all seen the changes to our towns and cities due to mass immigration from eastern europe.
    Why do they come here? it cant be because of the jobs because stu says there arn't any.

  10. Adam

    Desperation and stories of a promised land do wonders. Especially if your alternative is a war-torn mess. They strike out and hope for the best. Sometimes they'll end up trying in several countries before they get here.
    There are doctors who came here expecting work and have spent years living in the streets. The medical professionals here thought the situation appalling. 

  11. Adam

    Also, remember the European immigrants to America expecting to find wonders, instead of the disaster or poverty that they often found.
    "Streets paved with gold" – another classic delusion.
    It's an old story, it seems.

  12. joncfc

    or perhaps the cost of living in the UK compared to eastern europe and the middle east makes it worthwhile for them to come here, live in HMOs and send their wages back home.  Its good for them, its 'good for business' and who gives a fuck about the working classes who would have done the same job but for higher wages only a few years ago? Well the bnp gives a fuck but thats for another day…

  13. joncfc

    btw i work in local government and im voting liberal this time around…

  14. Adam

    Sure thing, sparky.

  15. ronald alexander mcdonald

    Maybe they should give the unemployed jobs investigating MP’s. Their expenses claims, dodgy hangouts etc.   

  16. Rev. Stuart Campbell

    “Maybe they should give the unemployed jobs investigating MPs. Their expenses claims, dodgy hangouts etc.”

    Genius! Might have to steal that.

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