Vox Political on the Criminalisation of Youth Unemployment

Mike over at Vox Political wrote this piece on Cameron’s promise to make community work compulsory for young, unemployed people between 18 and 21. As he points out, this is the sentence usually dished out to petty offenders. The article’s called Conservatives would put unemployed on community service, and begins

It used to be a punishment for low-level criminals, but now David Cameron has admitted a future Conservative government would force it on people who have been out of work for more than six months. Those aged 18-21 will have to go straight into this work.

What does that say about Cameron’s opinion of the unemployed?

Is he trying to make it seem like a criminal offence? Is he trying to make it a criminal offence to be young and out of work?

It’s all part of his ‘divide and conquer’ plan for the UK, one supposes – treat the unlucky as an underclass and make those who are fortunate enough to be in (well-paid) work thank their lucky stars.

Take note of that caveat about ‘well-paid’ work; part of this scheme to criminalise the unemployed is an intention to force more and more people into underpaid jobs without in-work benefits, in order to make more money for his rich donors (who of course will pass some of the benefit on to the Conservative Party). You know the kind – the zero-hours contracts that Labour plans to outlaw; part-time work, temporary work, minimum wage work that means people still have to claim benefits.

There’s also an intentional – but superficial – resemblance to Labour’s plan; the job guarantee.

Both would compel benefit claimants into work after six months, but after that, the Tory plan does not stand up well at all.

Mike then goes on to compare it to Labour’s plan to provide the young with compulsory, but paid employment.

I can’t say I’m happy with Labour’s plan. It’s too much like an improved version of workfare. That said, it is much better than what the Tories are offering, which is vicious, punitive and degrading. Pretty much like them.

The Criminalisation of Unemployment under the Tories and Elizabethans

As for the Tories’ policy effectively criminalising the unemployed young – I think that’s absolutely correct. It bears comparison with the Elizabethan poor laws of the 16th century, when the country was first having to grapple with the problem of unemployment caused by changes in the economy. These also notoriously criminalised poverty. Unemployment was seen very much as the fault of the unemployed themselves. They were seen not as victims of economic forces, but simply idle and lazy.

Moreover, in a nation that was still very feudal with a social order based on subservience to a landholding elite, the unemployed were considered to be a threat to order and authority. They were ‘masterless men’, outside the feudal and guild bonds that tied the peasant to the landlord and the apprentice to the master craftsmen. Simply by being unemployed, they were a threat to society and its order. They were also a source of fear because of the threat they posed as a drain on the primitive welfare provisions that were in place, such as the parish vestry and private alms. And then, of course, there was the additional fear of the dangers they also posed of robbery and theft.

It’s no accident that when workhouses first appear to accommodate the unemployed and teach them a trade under Edward VI, they were described as ‘houses of correction’. One of the first laws to tackle unemployment stipulated that an unemployed person could not legally turn down an offer of work made by a prospective employer, no matter what the conditions. If he did so, the employer was empowered to seize and enslave him. The law didn’t last long before it was removed, but it shows the panic and the punitive nature of the authorities at the perceived threat the unemployed pose.

The Tories and their cheerleaders in the right-wing press pretty much have exactly the same attitudes. Unemployment is a result of idleness and the character defects of unemployed and disabled themselves. It is not the product of the economy.

And the unemployed are a threat to society. They’re feeding off the earnings of the ‘hard-working’ taxpayer, and without work to discipline them are undoubtedly all criminals, committing theft, robbery and drugs. Thus, they all should be forced onto workfare.

Once upon a time, the same right-wing loudmouths used to prescribe national service as the solution for poorly educated, ill-disciplined, slovenly and potentially criminal young people. That seems to have gone by the board, as the Tories are trying to dismantle the regular army because it costs too much. More importantly, the voters tend to get upset when their sons, daughters and partners start coming back in body bags. It’s not good for national morale, and so the army is being reduced to what would have been called a militia back in Elizabeth’s time, and much of the fighting done by private military contractors. We’re still seeing our boys and girls come back in the body bags, though.

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3 Responses to “Vox Political on the Criminalisation of Youth Unemployment”

  1. patricknelson750 Says:

    When people say that they are going to make the unemployed youths do community service for their benefits they are in effect announcing the institution of slave wages (probably equating to something as small as £2 per hour). It is effectively an announcement that the minimum wage exists for everyone, but the unemployed youth. Putting the unemployed to work for their benefits is a very good idea, but to make them do it for less than the minimum wage is nothing but economic abuse.

  2. A6er Says:

    Reblogged this on Britain Isn't Eating.

  3. concernedkev Says:

    The ruling class have always considered it a crime to exist unless you can be of worth to them to generate profit. When you have filled their warehouses through driven over production they lay you off and call you useless scum. This has been going on since the advances of automation at the onset of the industrial revolution. The Luddites were considered dinosaurs for resisting this advance but they had a point and recognised peoples worth in producing quality individual crafted work. Ironically a lot of small companies are going back to this. As for “putting people to work” what is that about, Today it means that sick and disabled people are FORCED back to work to save on the WELFARE BILL and if they DIE so be it. The disadvantaged youth should rise up against this youth abuse. God forgive the people of this country if they re-elect this mob of bandits and thieves. They will eventually get what they deserve.

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