In an article published in today’s edition of The Guardian commentator and broadcaster Jenni Russell asks why a man with two children who had worked for more than 20 years, and in recent years earned about £30,000 a year, when he loses his job, is immediately reduced to £64.30 a week because his wife has a part-time job.
The French, German, Finnish and Dutch systems treat payment of unemployment benefits differently. For one thing, they are more generous, and, for another, they are linked to employment records and pay.
In France, anyone who has worked for at least four months in the previous two years gets between 40% and 75% of their pay. The minimum rate payable is around £150 a week, and the maximum almost £1,500. ……
Russell says that it was under Thatcher in 1982 that the earnings-related benefit payments, which had been introduced in the sixties by Labour, were replaced by needs-related payments. The state, she writes, now helps only those who have savings of less than £6,000, and neither partner is in work. The state does not feel that it has to give help to anyone with a standard of living to lose.
This policy can be dressed up as fairness – we won’t help anyone until they are on the edge of destitution. But it’s really a calculated attempt by governments over the past 25 years both to save money, and to make unemployment so unattractive that anyone will be driven to keep looking for work.
….. The safety net is set so low because the priority isn’t to reassure, but to ensure a swift return to work. Its discomfort is a key part of our much vaunted flexible labour market. And as far as the adviser is concerned, it has worked. The proof is that for much of the last decade British unemployment was lower – mostly about 5% – than the continent’s 8% or 9%.
And here I was thinking that were dealing with a government might have the courage to take on recruitment agencies which treated jobseekers badly. Fat chance of that.