To the real world then! – and the “time to boot lazy old and/or disabled benefit claimants into work” concepts launched at claimants yesterday by legendary civic thinker Jeremy Hunt.
Can’t wait for this. A “voluntary” (don’t laugh) back to work scheme for any disabled people who weren’t bumped off during austerity’s first pass, an over-50s apprenticeship thing to keep not-rich older people grinding in harness so that they drop dead before pension age, and the now-famous plan to force claimants to jobcentres repeatedly for back-to-work meetings with overstretched job coaches who already don’t have time to see clients for more than ten minutes. What’s not to love?
The subtext, of course, is that the only reason people don’t work, or don’t work until their hair bleeds, is because they’re lazy. Disability, old age, mental health issues, sickness – in Hunt’s mind, that stuff is all just panto.
Except that it is not. It really is not.
The “lazy claimants” innuendo is actually the laziest part of Hunt’s gobfest. I can say that for a fact, because as luck would have it, I’ve recently been speaking at length with benefit claimants at a job club in the Stockport suburb of Brinnington (I’m interviewing people for a new book I’m writing).
Intriguingly, this job club has not served up the legions of idlers that Hunt would have you believe are lying around in places like Brinnie and enjoying your taxes via the medium of weed. Actually, the main activity that most people I’ve met are involved in is trying to exist at the rough end of a world run by gobshites and sociopaths such as Jeremy Hunt.
The people I’ve spoken with so far have been older and/or ill (one with a heart condition, but recently employed as a cleaner, and one guy in his 60s who’d been working at McDonald’s), or facing age bias from employers after 40+ years of work and then redundancy, or, in one case, trying to avoid being murdered by Putin. I spoke last week to a 26-year-old Ukranian woman called Nataliia who showed me a picture of a pile of rubble where part of her hometown once stood. She was working as a translator for Stockport council and looking for a permanent job in her field of expertise.
On older people though: You find a lot of older people at these jobs clubs, for the simple reason that the pension age keeps disappearing over the horizon and some people manage to cling to life as it moves.
For example – I spoke at length last Friday with M, who is 64. M had worked for nearly 50 years – the last 34 of them in for the same employer in retail in a curtain manufacturer’s showroom. But then, “my boss decided to retire and went into voluntary liquidation. There was 9 of us [working there]. In January this year, we were unemployed.”
At 64, M was still a way off pension age. This is a garbage situation in itself. Anyone who is even partly civilised knows that when you get to 60, you should be able to retire if you want to, or if you need to. You shouldn’t be forced to scrabble around for painful ways to drag yourself over a ever-fading finish line. “I’m struggling in lots of ways, because I don’t have a lot of computer skills,” said M. She’d signed on for new-style jobseekers’ allowance, because when she was made redundant, she expected to find another retail job pretty fast.
Except that she hadn’t. There were 2 problems here: age bias and health. “I’ve applied for lots of retail jobs [even] before I became unemployed,” M said. “I do think they look at your age. There have been times when I’ve had to send my passport off to prove who I am – and then I don’t get any contact.” Continue reading