Two versions of the same story appeared in the news feeds this morning, and I had to read them carefully to work out what was going on.
First, there was the Daily Mail's "One million people who are fit to work have been on benefits for three years". Then, in the Express, "The one million who are FIT TO WORK but live on benefits". That one, not surprisingly, is the more disgusting. It goes on: "A MILLION welfare claimants have lived on working-age benefits for three out of the last four years, despite being judged capable of trying to find a job, shocking figures revealed last night." You might have worked it out by now. Yes, about a million of the out-of-work are long-term unemployed. Do we read on to find out how the Work Programme is helping them, or is going to be changed to help them? Don't bother, there's no mention of it. This is from a report to be published by Iain Duncan Smith. He's more interested in family breakdown, and asserts that "local authorities have already turned around the lives of 1,675 troubled families." This is the outsourcing of the "troubled families" intervention scheme. Note that there is no indication of what "turned around the lives" actually means. Someone got a job? Who knows. But the Mail has a pretty graph showing "How Britain's benefits bill has risen" with never a mention of the fact that a huge chunk of the benefits bill consists of pensions.
So these rags intend their readers to infer that a million people out there are too lazy to work, and add to the clamour for a clampdown. That isn't spin; that's lying.
For a more truthful account, the Guardian looks at a report by the Fawcett Society which shows that since 2010 almost three times as many women as men have become long-term unemployed. Men have got 60% of the new private sector jobs. A big factor in this trend is that women are suffering most from the public sector cuts, losing the low wage, often part-time jobs. Of course, IDS has nothing to say about this.
Another disturbing story appeared in the Observer on Sunday. The social fund grew out of the long-standing practice of giving emergency grants to people on benefits to pay for necessary items such as beds or cookers (second-hand, of course) which they didn't have the money to buy. Labour turned these into loans. Now, local councils are complaining that more and more people are coming to them for emergency loans, because the jobcentres haven't mentioned the availability of the money. Indeed, it appears that jobcentre workers have been issued with explicit guidance by the DWP that they should not advertise the existence of the loans so as not to "encourage dependency on the benefits system", and simply pass the buck to the councils. And it seems that the emergencies which cause the need for short-term loans are no longer the one-off large items but such mundane things as food.
We're now told that the publication of performance data for the WP has been put back. It was due on 28 May but will now be published on 27 June, and will cover the period to March 2013. The vow of silence on the whole subject of the WP doesn't augur well for the figures.
On a more general note, I want to recommend a book. Michael Sandel is an economist, but one who writes in a very lucid way about economics in the real world. His book What Money Can't Buy - the moral limits of markets (pub. Allen Lane, 2012) is an excellent introduction to thinking about the issue of private profit, ethics and the public arena.