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The Chancellor was on the news today, describing how he wants to save money by ending the “lifestyle choice” of living on benefits.

The Chancellor was on the news today, describing how he wants to save money by ending the “lifestyle choice” of living on benefits.

He’s not the first politician to set this as a target, and he probably will not be the last.

Why have they been so unsuccessful at getting more people into work? It might be that there simply aren’t the jobs, it might be that we are at or around the natural rate of unemployment and any effort to get more people into work would actually force up prices or it might be that the benefit system is keeping people out of work.

Another, perhaps less obvious reason, is to do with the connections which unemployed people have. Unemployment, especially long term unemployment, is geographically concentrated, although perhaps not as much as some people suggest.

A recent paper found that people who have strong family ties are more likely to be out of work or in lower paid work than those who are less well connected. And we know from our work in New Cross Gate that a certain percentage of unemployed people, are not connected to people who are in work and do not know anyone who occasionally hires people.

This can lead to people staying unemployed both because people often get work through ‘weak ties’ and because people can stop thinking that it is normal to be in work.

This second point is deceptively complicated. It could be seen as an attack on what Charles Murray terms ‘the underclass’. However, from a policy-maker’s point of view, it could just as easily be seen as a prompt to create spaces in which people in and out of work will meet. Creating spaces such as this is very tricky. It’s easy enough to create a support group or an exclusive club but creating a space in which people of many different backgrounds actually mix with each other is far harder.

Somehow, I find it unlikely that George Osborne is proposing that the government support a wave of new and popular social clubs, but perhaps that’s what he should be doing…

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