Dole Scroungers is based in sunny Brighton. It campaigns for better welfare entitlements and gives advice on how to extract more cash from taxpayers.
Less than an hour from London, full of pink pounds and posh houses, you might think Brighton wouldn't have much of a problem with dole scrounging. But you'd be wrong: if you've been there anytime in the last twenty years, you'll know it has a substantial population of working age welfare dependents. It seems such people are attracted to Brighton, and in consequence its unemployment rate is twice the regional average.
But Brighton isn't alone. All over the country there are similar stories, and it seems never a week goes by without some especially eye-catching report. A recent one from Manchester told of how an educated man had thrown up his job because it was too stressful. Now he, his wife, and their eleven children are drawing £29,096 a year in benefits from taxpayers. He says:
"For many years I worked in Derby as a teacher, earning £27,000 a year, and Noreen would be at home with the kids. I would come home at weekends. Then I moved back to work in Manchester and took a pay cut to £24,000. It was a load of c***. I was teaching at a college and I'd be up at 5.30am with the kids then have to go to work. I just couldn't be a***d with sitting in traffic. I'd be sat in traffic for hours and I felt like I'd done a day's work by the time I got there, I was so stressed."
We may feel his behaviour is reprehensible, but who can say he's not acting rationally? He's financially better off on benefits, he doesn't have the stress of work, and he's even got time to plan their twelfth child.
- Over 4.3 million people of working-age and 1.79 million children are living in workless households- ie 6m people (10% of Britain's entire population) are living in 3m households where one or more adults is of working age but nobody works, and the household is entirely dependent on state welfare
- 16% of working age households are workless
- These households cost us at least £12.7bn pa in welfare payments (nearly 4 pence on the standard rate of income tax for the rest of us)
- In 80% of the households, nobody is even seeking work
- The government reckons 2m of these people can be put to work, including 1m currently drawing incapacity benefit and 0.3m lone parents, but...
- The New Deal welfare to work programmes have no coherent strategy for reaching those not seeking work (ie those not in receipt of Job Seekers allowance)
- Most of the programmes are inefficient, costing taxpayers more than they save in terms of reduced welfare costs etc
- Management information is shockingly poor, with for example no record of how many people going onto New Deal programmes never actually graduate into jobs
As we all understand, welfare dependency is one of the most corrosive forces going. But the New Deal programme has run into the sand. It may initially have helped easy to place job seekers into work, but it's having virtually no success with this hardcore 4.3m, 2m of whom even the government admits are capable of working.
According to the PAC, 60% of workless households are concentrated in just 10% of our council wards. Brighton aside, they are mostly in the familiar areas where employment opportunities are most limited (North East, South Wales etc).
The Big Government solution is to hope it can somehow create jobs in these areas paying enough to tempt people off welfare. But unfortunately their productivity is often insufficient to generate pay high enough to do that. Which is a problem that even David Freud's plan to use private sector back-to-work agencies is unlikely to solve entirely.
The alternative market solution is to cut welfare entitlements- especially in low wage areas- so that the attraction of paid employment is much more evident to all. It may sound harsh, but quite simply, the man from Manchester and people like him should not be better off unemployed, dependent on taxpayers and even incentivised to produce ever more children. Despite what he says about stress, most of the evidence is that paid employment brings all sorts of other benefits besides cash, such as improved mental health.
There are no prizes for guessing which of these two solutions is more sustainable in the long-term.