08.31.2009 0

Too Hot Not To Note: Idle young should be entitled to nothing

  • On: 09/02/2009 09:58:45
  • In: Entitlements

  • ALG Editor’s Note:
    In the following featured commentary from Michael Portillo, columnist for the Times Online, the forgotten view of government as being a promoter of economic growth and not the center of stifle should be remembered.

    Idle young should be entitled to nothing

    By Michael Portillo

    The state “should not stifle incentive, opportunity, responsibility”, wrote Sir William Beveridge in the 1942 report that inspired the post-war welfare state. “In establishing a national minimum it should leave room and encouragement for voluntary action by each individual to provide more than that minimum for himself and his family.”

    Those cautionary words haunt us now as we discover that 5m adults have not worked since Labour came to power 12 years ago. Even excluding those who are in education or have only recently completed it, and discounting those who have left the labour market through age or ill health, 2.5m have been jobless since 1997 at least. There are now 3.3m households — one in six — with no one over the age of 16 in employment and 1.9m children living in families without a parent in work.

    While the recession is increasing the numbers, it clearly did not cause the problem. Those millions remained idle during 10 years of boom when the economy created many jobs that immigrants happily filled. The workless have been immune to programmes of training and mentoring. No reform in our education system has dented their numbers and repeated efforts to tighten the criteria for invalidity benefits or “sharpen” claimants’ contact with the labour market have failed.

    Beveridge was not the first to spot the risk that providing benefits for people out of work could encourage dependency. In 1834 followers of Jeremy Bentham, the philosophical radical, succeeded in shaping the poor law to discourage idleness. The reform offered relief only in workhouses whose conditions would be worse than existing on even the most meagre wage. Such stony-hearted attitudes could not survive into the more democratic 20th century.

    Even so, before the first world war Beveridge was certainly not advocating that the state should look after people from cradle to grave. He believed in practical measures and self-help. He persuaded Winston Churchill to create labour exchanges on the German model and to require workers to insure against unemployment. Only when the inter-war slump exhausted the insurance fund did the government introduce uninsured handouts.

    That dole was deeply resented as undermining a man’s dignity. He wanted work because that enabled him to support his family. Depending on state or private charity carried a heavy stigma. Having seen the impact of the Great Depression, it must have been unimaginable to Beveridge that anyone would choose to live on benefit in preference to being in work. Given the ethos of the age, it was not just wishful thinking to assert that the state should not stifle incentive or responsibility… continue reading.

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