The Tories’ biggest economic claims (there are only two of them) are that they generated a recovery (after 18 months it’s already fading) and that they created a million private sector jobs. The latter claim is now under fire from all sides. First, it has just been rep;orted by the thinktank Centre for Cities that 11 of every 12 jobs created have been in southern England and only 1 in the rest of the country. This gap between the best and worst pedrforming towns and cities has now widened so far that it has created a 2-tier economy of dynamism and decline. Second, the vast majority of these jobs are insecure, low-paid, and often subject to zero hours contracts, while 40% of them are self-employment (often enforced as the only way to survive) on a pittance income. But, third, new evidence casts a further disturbing light on any idea of a jobs renaissance.
Research just completed at Oxford University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has found that of the 1.9 million sanctions (i.e. withdrawal of benefits) imposed on people receiving jobseeker’s allowance during 2011-14, over two-fifths of those sanctioned ceased trying to claim the benefit but, crucially, only a fifth of these said that this was because they had found work. That raises the question of what happened to the other four-fifths. Did they feel forced to give up claiming when the reasons given by DWP (if indeed any reasons are given at all) are often trivial and not deserving of such a cruelly punitive reaction. If so, do they resort to food banks or what?
DWP makes no attempt to find out. Indeed their sole concern is to remove persons from the claimant lists (‘off-flow’ in the revealing jargon of the Department), not to find out whether they found work and, if so, of what quality and pay level. In other words sanctioning is no longer a last resort measure targeted on the stubbornly workshy, but now simply a crude device to cut the benefits bill. But so focused are they on that objective that the government apparently fails to notice that the costs are simply transferred elsewhere – to the NHS or food support systems or prisons if people are driven to crime to avoid utter destitution.
Worse, blame is now increasingly directed at Jobcentres for setting up ‘hit squads’ to target vulnerable claimants, including those with learning difficulties or mental illness. The driving force is sanctions to enable DWP offices to meet monthly targets for ‘off-flow’. Even here the results are perverse. Even the government’s work programme providers concede that the poverty caused by sanctions makes vulnerable jobseekers less likely to find work. When not only the morality but also the economics are counter-productive, is anybody or anything safe from the blind cost-cutting obsession of this government?