My initial response to today’s Labour policy rollout was as follows:
@labour_partisan also, another way of hating the young.
— Alex Harrowell (@yorksranter) April 7, 2013
Thinking about it, though, this isn’t necessarily so. Presumably the idea is that people build up additional entitlement by paying their class III National Insurance contributions over the years – you may already have guessed that contributions-based unemployment benefit is very much not a new thing – and the young’uns rely on the job guarantee element to, uh, guarantee them a job. Yer man has correctly spotted that there is potential for a disaster like the NI married woman’s stamp here, but that bit of it can be fixed.
Now I can see a rationale for this. It’s not before time for Labour to realise that flogging the 50+ long term unemployed to get jobs is…beside the point and a bit cruel. And if you think unemployment is bad for you, you presumably don’t want the youth to marinate in it for years.
But I do have an objection, which I owe to Ian Brown of the Stone Roses and specifically to a Melody Maker interview of way back when in which he held that cuts to unemployment benefit, and more specifically, to some of the fringe benefits the system used to provide were going to kill British music.
After all, citing another long-forgotten music interview, this time on R1, I recall Tony Wilson describing how he failed to sign the Roses to Factory Records. Someone recommended them to him, and persisted until he agreed to schlep out to some dreadful pub near Wythenshawe, where, he said, weighting his words precisely, “I had been told they were the greatest thing…and I saw something like..the goth Doors. And I did not ask for the goth Doors.”
I’m not sure quite what he meant, although perhaps the intro to “I Wanna Be Adored” feels a bit like that. But you can have the experience by just listening to the first three songs on “The Complete Stone Roses”, the ones everyone skips over on their way to “Sally Cinnamon” and beyond. Really, whether Wilson was right in his characterisation or not, he was right in his assessment.
So what happened? Well, they went off and spent the next three or so years practising and listening to weird records, and of course practising. This is technically known as “labour search efficiencies”, here is a nice Mike Konczal post making the empirical case, and it is an excellent reason to doubt the wisdom of keeping the cash for the old fellas and posting the young’uns into whatever jobs the revived FJF creates as quickly as possible. Stuffing someone into the wrong job is a deadweight-loss to society, as well as to the individual. Further, a hell of a lot of people exit unemployment via informal channels, whether that’s word of mouth/mates’ rates job searching, starting a bogus hair salon that actually takes off, etc. I worry that the constant keying up of search requirements and surveillance is getting in the way of this.
After all, as Quentin Crisp said, “It’s no good running a pig farm badly for 30 years while saying, ‘Really, I was meant to be a ballet dancer.’ By then, pigs will be your style.” You’re more likely to do a successful career change when you’re young, and therefore, there is a case for flipping the policy on its head. There’s also a case for having a different policy, of course. But we’ve got a while to go and we may as well, you know, think.
Liam Byrne is still an arsehole, though. I do like the Austrian lump-sum option from Koncz’s link.