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Unemployed: Why the Benefits Scrounger Myth is False

Are you looking for work because you're not working at the moment? If yes, then welcome to the world of benefit scroungers. How hard you're looking and how badly you want a job doesn't make a difference. You're a scrounger. (Unless you're living off Mummy and Daddy, or able to eat through your savings, of course. Being affluent completely excuses you even if you are a work-shy slob.) Being disabled is no excuse either - just check out this video of how Atos asessed a mentally disabled woman as “fit for work” and stopped her benefits.

If you are currently unemployed, chances are you do want to work- that's why you're on this site, yeah? The sad thing is, most of us have been unemployed at some point in our lives. Moving to a new area and the period just after graduation or leaving school are the obvious ones. Then there's layoffs, health issues, or caring responsibilities. We all know someone who is unemployed or has been unemployed. But politicians and the media create a false dichotomy of employed versus benefits scroungers, ignoring the fluid reality of people moving in and out of employment. For those with unskilled jobs, moving in and out of unemployment is even likelier, as their skills are less valuable in the job marketplace; they have too many competitors. Casual labour, part time and freelance work tend to be more common in low skilled jobs (though the amount of part time jobs has been steadily growing over the last few decades, and freelancing remains popular in the creative, digital and media industries.)

Benefits-dependency is not synonymous with unemployment; Work Tax Credit, Housing Benefit and Child Tax Credit are not unemployment-related. But the way the papers tell it, you'd think all our taxes were going to build mega-mansions for scroungers in the Dole Lifestyle. The Department of Work and Pensions' attempts to get jobseekers back into work are actually eating up jobs; workfare/unpaid 'work experience' is used by companies such as Asda to provide free labour instead of actually employing people to get the work done. The unemployed are helping millionaire shareholders get even richer while they provide labour without earning a penny. So why aren’t the unemployed being praised and admired as the backbone of our society? If it wasn’t for their free labour, local businesses might have to close down and their staff would become unemployed. Really, the unemployed are benefitting the employed. A growing culture of unpaid internships and students getting jobs they may not need to compete in the job market later also take away jobs from those that really do need them. The competitiveness of the job market encourages students to work and creates a student culture, which normalises working while studying. As a result, employers now expect graduates to have worked, and this continues the cycle of students 'taking' jobs from the less skilled.

Other DWP initiatives include mandatory training sessions for jobseekers and courses on finding work, which are usually carried out by one of the more than forty Work Programme providers. However, the point of these courses is questionable. Even if the Work Programme succeeds in helping people into work, there are only so many jobs. All that is achieved is making the unemployed on the Work Programme successfully compete with the unemployed who are not yet on the Work Programme or not in receipt of benefits. This doesn’t reduce the unemployment rate. It just means that these chosen few will successfully compete with other unemployed people. The number of unemployed in the UK will remain exactly the same. Moreover, the non-benefit claiming unemployed who lose out to the benefits claiming unemployment will eventually have to claim benefits if they can’t compete for jobs.

The good news is that if the job market remains competitive, career-focused sites like this one – and career-focused magazines- will flourish. And so will jobs for Job Centre staff and right-wing welfare state-hating journalists. So at least it's not bad news for everyone. Can't complain, eh?

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