Unemployment is on the rise again, and with it comes the rhetoric of the right.
We hear talk of the ‘workshy’, we hear people on benefits referred to as ‘scroungers’, and of a ‘dependency culture‘ in which it is suggested that the unemployed just aren’t trying to find work.
Mr Humphrys is neither the first nor the last person to talk about generational unemployment – although that of course is not the problem as he and his ilk see it; the real crime is generational benefit claiming. The idea that there are entire families who have been claiming state benefits generation after generation is a compelling one.
It’s also utter nonsense (which, thankfully, I’m not the only one pointing out).
The Department for Work and Pensions collects a lot of data about people who are claiming ‘out of work benefits’ – that’s the catch-all term for ‘any benefit you get when you aren’t working'; it includes sickness-related benefits (which seem to be a particular bugbear of many on the right).
In February 2011, there were 2.8 million people who had been on out of work benefits for more than 2 years, of which 1.9 million had been claimants for 5+ years.
In February 2008 there were 2.9 million people who had been on out of work benefits for more than 2 years, of which 2.0 million had been claimants for 5+ years.
In February 2001 there were 2.9 million people who had been on out of work benefits for more than 2 years, of which 1.8 million had been claimants for 5+ years.
The numbers don’t change much, basically (as you can see for yourself). Which means that there are some people (around 2 million) who are pretty much permanently out of work.
Coincidentally, Disabled Living Foundation figures state that there are around 2.1 million disabled people living in the UK at the minute who are of working age but unable to work.
And then there’s another million-ish people who are periodically out of work for between two and five years – about the duration of an acute physical or mental illness. Or a recession.
An important point to make here is that it’s not the same million people – it can’t be. That’s not the way the figures work – if they’re out of work for longer than 5 years, they go into a different part of the DWP statistics. So in any one 2-5 year period, there are around a million people who are out of work, but then they go back to work (or at least stop claiming benefits).
Which also means that everyone else in the unemployment statistics (over 3 million people at the moment) is generally out of work for less than two years (again, not the same people each time they’re counted)
A generation is about 20 years.
I’ve already done the maths for you – but there aren’t many people in Britain who are unemployed for that long, at least not according to the DWP, and the vast majority of those are too disabled to work. Now call me a crazy wild-eyed socialist, but I’m pretty sure our society can be expected to support the tiny percentage of disabled people who will never be able to work.
People on out of work benefits are not idle scroungers, too lazy to work – they are, in the vast, overwhelming majority, taxpayers and citizens who are temporarily out of work.
Our welfare system exists for this very reason – to support people when they need it most. We all pay into it, because we are a society.
And because we know that one day, we each may need it ourselves.