There are now two strands of the discussion surrounding unemployment and benefits. There is the ignored issue of unemployment, and there is welfarism. The Tories aren't really interested in the former: they have no answer to it because they don't see it as a problem. Unemployment has always been a price worth paying, in their eyes. Easy of course for the rich to say; it doesn't affect them. There's no chance of Cameron or Osbourne losing their jobs, that's the nature of the ruling elite. They'll always be comfortable; the system takes care of its masters. That seems to be how it, how capitalism, is structured ultimately. People are screaming for Bob Diamond to resign this morning: so what if he does? He won't be short of a bob or two, nor will his revenue streams be closed down if he never works again. In fact you might argue that, with all his millions and bonuses accrued, riding off into the sunset is in fact the best thing he could want!
Unemployment is part of capitalism. It seems self evident to me that, so long as we abide by it, there will always be some percentage, rising or falling as needs dictate (including the needs of the media), of the overall working age population unemployed.
In light of that the debate has then become about the moral value of welfare. Is it right to give the unemployed money. If it isn't, then the Tories have a convenient justification for their slash and burn shock and awe policies. Fortunately for the Tories, decades of neoliberalism colluding with a media agenda has programmed the people to believe that welfare is bad: that it prevents people from getting a job. Even when you point out that there are 23 people applying for every job people still think it's because the feckless can't be bothered to stop watching Jeremy Kyle to bother. This was self evident on last night's Moral Maze discussion on Radio 4.
This poe faced little psychodrama features a regular cabal of social thinkers, religious pontificators and former politicians (and, unfortunately, Melanie Phillips, frequently betraying her sad little prejudices) pretending to take both sides of a particular current affair. Last night they chewed the cud regarding welfare in one of the most naked displays of ignorance I've ever heard. It was only really Kenan Malik that stood out, meeting very little response to the very question the above statistic implies. I've never heard of James Bartholomew before (and never want to again). This tawdry individual claims that welfare should be done away with and that the government, presumably the state, hinders people from getting work. He couldn't answer the question. The rest of the discussion displayed a complete ignorance of the context that welfare finds itself in and tried to discuss it in some disembodied fashion, divorced from the reality of a capitalist money-oriented society where people are cut off from the means of production and self sufficiency. It was left to Owen Jones to redeem the cause of sanity which he did but only by having to constantly reinforce the fact that Housing Benefit is paid to Landlords. The whole discussion was permeated with nonsense, unchallenged; put forward in favour of the workfare, in particular the Wisconsin model.
The truth is that the idea welfare is the problem with welfare offends me. It offends me because the people putting forward this nonsense, like the blowhards on the radio, in particular the tedious meandering navel gazing of Claire Fox, are so divorced from the reality as to be irrelevant. I completely disabuse myself intellectually that welfare breeds dependence, specifically the notion of entitlement (something for nothing). This kernel lies at the heart of the point of view and is deeply insidious: we live in a capitalist system, we are ALL dependent on it, specifically on an income. More specifically on the source of that income. The idea that I, on JSA, am uniquely addicted to my means of support more than someone working the supermarket graveyard shift for the NMW is just bollocks. To them the welfare state just goes by a different name: Tesco - never mind that they might also need benefits because the government, and previous neoliberal capitalist governments (which is all of them), doesn't seem to care if private business pays its staff (or its tax dues).
So we get the idea that people should feel a sense of obligation to 'earn' their money. That of course completely overlooks the contribution that we, as humans, make to our lives, our neighbours, our communities and thus to society. Thus money is the only valid contribution one can make. In essence that's all life is now: a means of production, or, in the post industrial age, a means of shoring up or enhancing profit margins, interest rates and investment portfolios. Why else is the Olympics deemed so important by the government: not because David Cameron gives a fuck about some 18 year old kid winning a medal, but by how many corporate interests he can persuade into the City of London. Those SAM sites perched on top of your house aren't for your protection; they exist to protect the FTSE.
But in order to 'earn' your money we are also told the world doesn't owe us a living. It also assumes a level playing field. Well good luck, the cards were stacked decades ago. The unemployed are merely sailors on a ship they cannot control at the mercy of winds that blow at the whim of financial gods beyond their ken. To hold a man responsible for his fate in such conditions is simply cruel. Yet this is how we live, and when someone doesn't succeed we ascribe blame and fault solely unto them: they didn't study hard enough, work hard enough, try hard enough. There is no help or support as anyone on the WP knows full well. When I am told that wanting a career in writing is a laudable goal, the response isn't 'let's help' because it's a laudable goal; in fact it is, ironically, the exact opposite. Instead the providers will merely place you in front of the latest list of vacancies, their veracity and accuracy unchecked, and compel everyone to apply for them, thus increasing the competition for each job. They are not providing support as to their needs; they are merely reacting and raking in the cash.
In the end the ultimate consequence of the destruction of the welfare system will be further division within society. The working class will be told, through peer pressure and disapproval, to keep the dispossessed in line. God knows the state won't help: the police are being reduced and privatised and the courts only concerned with facebook rioters. Alienating increasing swathes of the population is a recipe for disaster that will only end in an exacerbation of everything that compels the ruling elite to believe that welfare is wrong.
I'm tired, fetch me my Soma.