Chapter 4: A Futile Chore
Footnote: Human Rights: Inadequate Means
Lawmakers, in their arrogant ignorance, deign to decree what the unemployed job seeker needs to live on. They overlook completely that the unemployed, like anybody else, also need the means to market themselves effectively in today's fiercely competitive globally influenced job market.
What 'The Law' Says
I am a recipient of State welfare. The amount I receive is officially reviewed from time to time. Each time it is reviewed the amount of money per fortnight which I shall receive can change. When it does, I receive an official letter. This tells me the reason for the change and the new amount per fortnight I shall be receiving in the future.
"This payment ... is based on the amount the law says you need to live on." This is the arrogant declaration which shamelessly prefixes the tabulation of the component payments which make up the total amount of the welfare I shall be receiving. The emphasis is mine. This declaration is incomplete for two reasons.
'The law' can only 'say' what its legislators have 'told' it to 'say'. A legislator is human. He is fallible. His powers of perception are limited. He can understand events and circumstances which he has not directly experienced only in terms of events and circumstances which he has experienced. The consensus forming majority of legislators have never experienced long term unemployment. The generic legislator thus has no basic experiences in terms of which he may understand what is communicated to him (through symbolic language) about the circumstances of the long term unemployed.
The legislator's perception of what the unemployed 'need' cannot therefore be other than distorted - if not totally false. The upshot is that State welfare provides what legislators perceive to be the theoretical minimum for basic family survival. And the kind of family they have in mind is that of the traditionally perceived unemployed stereo type who lives in a small terraced house in a declining low-cost area of the country.
What does 'the law' mean by 'need'? Without detailed qualification, it is for all practical purposes meaningless. Is the amount the law affords us intended merely to sustain our biological existences? Or is it intended to empower us to re-establish ourselves as functionally active elements of the socio-economy within which we find ourselves?
If it be anything short of the latter then I must conclude that (whatever they may say to the contrary) those who enact the law have no interest in eradicating or even reducing unemployment. They are perfectly happy just to sustain the biological life processes of the unemployed, leaving their economic fates entirely to the blind and chaotic forces of the free market. This policy, as I shall later show, has the inexorable effect of grid-locking us unemployed into permanent poverty.
I have made great effort over the past 10 years to find out the precise basis upon which the amount of state welfare is calculated. I have enquired through my Member of Parliament and other sources. All the answers I have ever received on the matter have been nebulous. They have been politicians' answers. They factually conveyed nothing except to imply that the powers that be do not really want a lowly subject like myself to know about or enquire into such matters. I wonder why?
As I understand it, the minimum wage is determined by government economists who try to think of all the things a low paid labourer needs to live on. But highly-paid economists have no personal experience of long-term existence on low income. They have no basis within their own experiences against which to measure the fundamental needs of human life. They are no more than blind speculators, amateur theorists. Their arithmetic cannot take account of what it is like to lack things which they take for granted to the extent of never consciously considering what it would be like to lack them.
Presumably, they start with a clean sheet and build up a list of all the things they think an unemployed person 'needs'. If, therefore, they happen to forget - or neglect to consider - anything at all, the level of welfare they set is bound to be lower than it should be. It could never be higher. Consequently, what the unemployed person actually receives as the minimum sustainable income is unlikely to be anything like the amount necessary to support the quality of life the economists have in mind for him. It can only ever be less.
This same erroneous notion of what a person needs to live on is also well apparent from the amount both employers and government perceive to be the
Wrong Men For The Job
In the mid 1980s I had a computer software project which was too big to complete myself in the time available. I had to hire the services of others to help me out. Surprisingly, the kind of people whose services I hired were computer software experts. Why would I do such a thing? Because in my judgement they would be better able to do the job in hand than would a bunch of car salesmen or the crew of a fishing boat. The people I chose were readily educated and experienced in the kind of work which needed doing.
If I needed help with the task of modelling the circumstances of an unemployed person trying to get back into work, whom would I hire? Why, of course, a bunch of lawyers with fat salaries and life-styles to match. I'd have their work vetted by a committee of Members of Parliament with their salaries, non-executive directorships and vast array of political and commercial contacts. They are bound to know exactly what it is like to be unemployed. They obviously have a truly incisive perception of the socio-economic universe the way it bears down upon every unemployed individual like me. I think not.
If I were charged with the task of constructing a mechanism to help the unemployed to regain economic self-sufficiency, I would enlist the help of the unemployed themselves. I would hire the unemployed to expedite the task for which they alone are qualified. It is a shame that those in control do not seem to think this way.
The Practical Reality
To be able to look after my wife I set up in business based at home. I had to remain based in the quiet suburban neighbourhood where we had been living because it was conducive to creative mental work and central to my potential market. I also needed to extend my home to incorporate a study in which I could work. Rather than spend my income on foreign holidays, hobbies and entertainment, my wife and I decided that it would be better in our circumstances to invest it in our home. So that's what we did.
Consequently our home is not a small terraced house in an economically declining low cost part of the country. It is a detached chalet house in what, over the years we have been there, has become an expensive London satellite commuter town. It is expensive for food. It is expensive for clothes. Travel other than by car is far too expensive even to contemplate. In our present locality, the amount of State welfare we are given to live on is inadequate for any purpose other than to sustain our biological existences. It certainly does not allow us to function as active elements of our local socio-economy. The practical reality is that State welfare provides barely enough to keep us alive.
The Option To Move
We could move to a smaller house in a cheaper area. However, in the circumstances of unemployment, this would make our situation even worse.
The cost of travelling around to search for a house, conveyancing fees, moving and re-furnishing would more than consume the price difference between our present house and the cheapest house able to accommodate our present family.
Moving would disrupt our sons' education which is at a critical point with GCSEs and A levels.
During my years in business I had contact with a large number of people. They all know me as being at my present address. I never know when one may contact me out of the blue with an opportunity for work. Moving would sever this potential contact since I would never be able to inform everybody of my change of address. On State welfare, I simply cannot afford to do so.
Moving would also take away the means and facilities I still have in place for restarting my business or carrying out any work I may be given by chance or providence.
Moving to make it possible to survive better on State welfare makes no sense.
Job Seeker's Allowance
In today's competitive economy a commercial company cannot hope to survive within a free market unless it actively markets itself and its products. For this purpose it must set aside an ever increasing proportion of its starting capital or annual profit. In today's job market the same is true for the individual trying to get a job. It is no longer the best qualified individual who gets the job. On the contrary, it is the best marketed individual who now gets the job.
For this purpose the individual needs to be in possession and control of the necessary and sufficient resources (or the capital with which to purchase them) to enable him to market himself to potential employers or clients. But as the scope of the market (and hence also the source of competition) has expanded from local to regional to national to global, so also has the size and cost of the marketing task. And this is as true for the individual as it is for the corporate. The larger the market you are in, the more it costs to market yourself within it - no matter how big or small your own enterprise may be.
Some years ago the politically expedient name given the State welfare was changed from 'Income Support' to 'Jobseeker's Allowance'. The government of the day wished, I suspect, to change the perception of the function of State welfare payments.
The name 'Income Support' suggests an amount of money needed to supplement an inadequate wage to bring it up to the minimum required to sustain family life within the recipient's indigenous socio-economic environment. The term 'Jobseeker's Allowance' on the other hand, suggests an amount of money provided to cover the cost of seeking a job. In other words its name implies that its purpose is to serve as the unemployed individual's marketing budget for marketing himself within the 'free' job market.
It seemed that at last the government had realised that in order to do business in a free market - whether it be a corporate selling consumer products or an individual selling his skills - it is necessary to allocate considerable funds to kick-start and sustain a vital process called marketing. Nevertheless, in so doing, they appear to have overlooked something. When the name changed from Income Support to Jobseeker's Allowance, the amount of money did not change. This leaves the job seeker with a simple choice. He can market himself and starve or live and remain unemployed. There is simply not enough to do both. It is like a corporate having to operate on a zero marketing budget.
When State welfare was renamed from Income Support to Jobseeker's Allowance the words "This payment ... is based on the amount the law says you need to live on." remained as they were. They were not extended to include "... and to cover the cost of marketing yourself within a fiercely competitive globally influenced job market." So it seems that the government of the day never intended to provide the job seeker with a marketing budget. The name change was nothing more than a political expedient.
The miserable level of State welfare, exacerbated by the rules governing
personal savings, forms a mechanism which grid-locks the unemployed into a level of poverty from which they cannot escape.
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©May 1998 Robert John Morton