Baking Serfdom Into The System Or…


As they say, follow the money.

The alternative title to this article could be why this blog is called Progressive Momentum or ProMo for short, see what I did there, pretty snazzy eh? Or not as the case may be, I digress. Today I’d like to look at how perfectly good ideas can be used to prove the old adage “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Solving a vast unemployment problem and making the trains run on time are both good ideas unless you elect Hitler to make it happen and cause one or two minor skirmishes in the process. I happen to think that The Job Guarantee and Universal Basic Income are good ideas but they are both foundational rather than ends in themselves. That is why this blog has no overall destination to reach, I’m just here to discuss good ideas and see where they lead, I offer no prescriptions.

Getting a job is a good idea if you don’t want to be poor or at least you’d think so but it’s a prime example of what happens when good ideas go wrong.


Oh dear, this isn’t going to plan for someone is it? Quite a few someones in fact. Full Fact report an exchange in the House of Commons and it seems things aren’t going well for the “strivers”. “Most adults in relative poverty (55%) are actually in a working family, as Jeremy Corbyn said. At the same time, adults in working families are much less likely to be in relative poverty than those from workless families”. This alarming trend has until recently been growing. “13.2 million people were estimated to be in relative poverty in 2013/14, after housing costs are accounted for. That roughly means anyone in a household earning less than £232 per week (60% of the median income, £386 per week)”.

High levels of employment is a great idea surely, but as the above proves that can end up swapping one form of poverty for another. As the UK figures show people are going in and out of poverty at an alarming rate, with overall savings at a record low. The welfare system should be designed to keep people out of relative poverty yet more frequently in puts people into absolute poverty. Absolute poverty is defined as “The definition used by a number of international organisations (such as the UN and the World Bank) is that you cannot afford the basic needs of life—food, clothing, shelter and so on. The rise and rise of the use of food banks shows that real absolute poverty exists in the UK, one of the richest nations in the world, but we blame the users of these services not the circumstances that lead them there by design. (Source: Full Fact.)

So, given the above, what of Universal Basic Income as a good idea? It would seem in the US and UK there is a certain antipathy about welfare systems that keep people out of poverty. This has deep roots in history and whilst history does not always repeat itself, it does rhyme. A UBI is a good idea only if those designing it wish it to be. In the current Neo-Liberal era a UBI would never be allowed to set a floor under wages or give workers any more bargaining power. There would also be the danger of it being used as a political football with the Tories set on keeping it low and using cuts to it as a first resort whenever the need for austerity raises its ugly head. There would be too many people dependent on the state and it’s goodwill if not designed properly.

So what of my pet project, that of the Job Guarantee? The Neo-Liberals love the JG but they call it something else, workfare, and oh how they love that. A few years ago this was dressed up as work experience and people were sent to stack shelves for companies like Poundland at £1.33ph. there wasn’t so much as lunch money thrown in to sweeten the deal and whilst travel expenses could be retrospectively claimed, if you couldn’t afford them in the first place you got nothing. A lot has changed since then thanks to scandalised public reaction at the obvious usury involved although a court judgement found such schemes legal. It’s still out there though as this case in 2015 proves. In all these cases the worker involved would have leapt at the chance of a properly paid job, all the resentment was having to do it for free.

There was an article on Reditt about one young man complaining at working a 40 hour week for his welfare payments at a supermarket. “I’m basically working from 9-5 Monday to Friday unpaid at a Supermarket that’s 40 hours per week. I’m stacking shelves 8 hours a day my adviser thinks this will give me valuable experience. I was wondering if Job seekers can work this long unpaid because this placement interferes with my job seeking activity”. Seems a tad harsh because add in actual job hunting time say 25 hours a week that £70 becomes £1.07ph but Gary, a commenter, thinks this is fair he writes;

What gripes is that folk expect to get £70 a week or whatever for doing absolutely sod all (and working is a charity shop is a “sod all” job in my book)! There has to be a way of forcing those who claim their £70 to contribute to society even if it means plonking them in care homes to look after the elderly or sticking them in hospitals or sending them to Iran. But to do absolutely nothing for their money is not on!

This is the level of debate as encouraged by the tabloid press and poverty porn programmes. Apparently elderly and medical care can be performed untrained people with no vocation and err… Iran? OK, you got me there I have no idea what the unemployed will do in Iran, nuclear weapons inspectors perhaps? Those views are not atypical.

So to all of those who think benefit sanctions are a good idea here’s a friendly word of warning, they’ll be coming for you next. Claiming Working Tax/child credits or claiming housing benefit? They’re going to apply sanctions to you too.

Good ideas are only as good as the people who implement them.