Should everyone have an automatic access to unemployment benefit/welfare when they are without a job?
This essay will explore whether everyone should have automatic access to unemployment benefit or a type of welfare when there are without a job, with focus upon the United Kingdom as well as an insight into how foreign nations conduct themselves with this similar task of how welfare or benefits are applied or distributed to its citizens without full time employment. A ‘welfare state’ in its narrow sense can be defined as income transfers, social assistance and social insurance (Esping‐Andersen, 1990). Conversely, in a broader perspective, a welfare state is considered to be a political concept that involves a complex system, including the state and the economy, as well as social policies. (Esping‐Andersen, 1990) It is brought forward by Lindsay and Houston that “successive governments have argued that the large numbers of people spending long periods on disability/work benefits represents a social and economic crisis.” (Lindsay and Houston, 2013) Therefore, in answer to the dilemma of how much state intervention is required or not in regards to a welfare state, this essay will investigate various areas of research regarding unemployment benefits and discuss the overall discourse in British media with the portrayal of those without current employment. This will be complemented by appropriate alternate solutions and perspectives surrounding the welfare state and use these theories to both justify for and against the basis of supplying a benefit or welfare system for individuals struggling without a career. This essay will contend that a welfare system is necessary in a capitalist society, in order to help those without employment or determined physically incapable, in order to supplement the expenditure of those affected and meet their day to day living needs whilst not being able to or find work.
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It is put forward by Esping-Andersen that today’s advanced welfare states are enhancements of the post-war welfare states found in the past. (Esping-Andersen, 2002) The implementation of a Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and Universal Credit, post-2015 is now considered to be the revised method of distributing and deciding who ‘deserves’ welfare from the United Kingdom. Universal in itself replaces the separate categories of housing benefit, income support or Jobseeker’s Allowance, for example, and covers all benefits universally. Six means tested benefits and tax credits into one monthly payment to simplify a complex system. (Gov.uk, N.D.)
To begin with, it is important to understand the argument against the concept of an all state interventionist society, one that sets aside a large amount of its national budget to support its people without employment. A notable theme in today’s western societies is that there is a distinct differentiation from those that work for a living, accepted in society, against those that are without employment, regularly stigmatised and often berated through media platforms. As such, some claimants of unemployment benefit are portrayed as purposely taking advantage of the welfare system and considered a drain on national resources, reinforcing the notion of national stigma. (Tyler, 2013). Former Prime Minister, David Cameron highlighted this concern of welfare dependency in 2011 when he said “The benefit system has created a benefit culture. It doesn’t just allow people to act irresponsibly, but often actively encourages them to do so. Sometimes they follow the signals that are sent out … Other times, they hazily follow them, trapped in a fog of dependency.” (Cameron, 2011) German Sociologist, Gunnar Heinsohn argues that a state that provides this style of welfare system makes its citizens more dependent based on not having to find employment knowing the state will intervene. Heinsohn furthers this point by contending that the welfare system is counterproductive for the providing country and would eventually collapse the system. As the population in Germany, for example, is shrinking, aging and becoming less educated on the back of 54% of the national budget being spent on social security. (Heinsohn, 2010) However, it would be over simplistic to argue that social spending only regards the welfare or benefits system as one. 25% of the national budget on ‘Welfare’ in the United Kingdom can be broken down into 4 other key categories as noted by Milligan (2014) from the BBC: “Public service pensions – paid to teachers, police officers, nurses etc. Other pensions spending – excluding pensions themselves, but including pension credit, winter fuel allowance etc. Personal social services – long-term care for the elderly, sick and disabled. Working age benefits – including social security payments, tax credits, housing benefits.” (Milligan, 2014) As a necessary alternative to the state providing unemployment benefits/welfare system, Singapore can be used as a case study. Implemented by the first prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew in provided an inspiring alternative to the large percentages of national budgets being spent on social benefits as adopted by the nations of Germany and UK previously mentioned. Yew used a meritocratic and non-dependent society to transform a post colonial Singapore into a thriving city-state and prevent a welfare state from becoming the norm. Singapore is known as one of the financial powerhouses in Asia, as part of the 4 Asian Tigers of Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong, it has been noted that their social policy through Neoliberalism is something to aspire to and even more remarkable than its economic accomplishments. (Goodman, 2015) Singapore has opted to build an alternative to the known European style of welfare state. In Singapore, people are required to save a percentage of their income to take care of these needs themselves, considered as ‘forced saving’ to be used in the event of precarious financial situations such as unemployment or the need for emergency health care. There is little provision of unemployment income, housing, education and medical care. Over time the Singapore state had created a new social policy system that utilised asset building as its central structure through a provident fund, beginning early in life and continuing through to the age of 55. Of course this does not apply in whole to unemployment, but a very useful alternative style to a welfare state society. In counter to this however, it would be difficult to upscale this alternate suggestion in a country as large and as socioeconomically diverse as the United Kingdom. Therefore, in summary to this alternative viewpoint, Singapore seems to take on a partial Laissez-faire approach. For example, It is claimed by Goodman (2015) that through Singapore’s style of approach, each generation is expected to pay its own way, before expecting any intervention from the state.
Moreover, in the United Kingdom, when it comes to fraudulent claims of welfare, the Department of Work and Pensions in 2017 reported that £1.9 Billion, 1.1% of the total budget was being claimed fraudulently. Those that pay more in taxes and less in services is rapidly declining. That when the most productive people see their income go to services that does not affect them directly it is likely to cause them to move to a different nation. In Addition to this, from an economic perspective, it is argued that high levels of working age inactivity represents a waste of human capital, as skills and labour are haemorrhage from the productive economy (Beatty et al., 2010). However, the terms that dominate: worklessness and dependency, construct the persistence of poverty and unemployment as originating in the poor choices and behaviour of individuals. An expensive, well meaning system of state support is portrayed not only as ineffective, but as reinforcing social problems by permitting people to make the ‘wrong’ choices, due to poor incentives in the benefit system, with devastating consequences for poor families. (Wiggan, 2012) Furthermore, Taylor suggests that generations of unemployed families, along with the recently unemployed, irregular migrants and asylum seekers, come to function as ‘national abjects’ (Taylor, 2013) Such national abjects are constituted and repetitively accumulated in and through their movement through a range of media, cultural, social and political sites, becoming over-determined and caricatured, and thus shaping perceptual realities at multiple levels of social interchange, organising public opinion and inciting consent for welfare retrenchment. (Jensen & Tyler, 2015)
On the other hand to this argument, Worldwide in developed nations, there is a general acceptance that state-intervention is necessary and an important factor in helping its citizens during a time of crisis or need. In Anthony Giddens’ Sociology, he reinforces the argument for the basic necessity of a welfare state with reference to the current climate of work in today’s modern society. Giddens claims that the labour market has undergone profound change as part of the shift from a manufacturing to a service-oriented economy, and that the introduction of information-technology has caused a transformation in the way employees are managed, thus introducing a young workforce to a culture of job insecurity. In that, those with few or considered to have the ‘wrong’ skills are reduced to precarious employment that are subject to fluctuations in the global market. (Giddens, 2009) Therefore, this furthers the overall argument for everyone to have access to unemployment welfare when the livelihoods of many workers are susceptible to a shifting, globalised capitalist system. This immense transition towards an information age is argued by Esping-Andersen to be in favour of skilled and specialised work but a sizeable market of low-end, routine services may easily emerge. The consequence is that, without low wage work available, the alternative is likely to be mass unemployment. It is said that those with weak human capital are likely to face unemployment. (Esping-Andersen, 2002) Furthermore, Karl Marx suggested “it is in the very nature of the capitalist mode of production to overwork some workers while keeping the rest as a reserve army of unemployed paupers.” (Marx, 1863) this makes the argument that unemployment is something man-made and concludes, this is a strategy adopted by capitalists to keep a steady flow of workers on the lowest possible wage whilst firing those that do not conform to the exploitation. In addition, the ‘reserve army’ provides a supply of labour directed by the owners of capital to absorb or reform the expansion or contraction of economic growth. (Wiggan, 2015) disciplining the active labour force, into understanding that this ‘reserve army’ acts as potential substitute workers encouraging the moderation of demands for improved terms and conditions of employment. (Wiggan, 2015) Albeit, this was in a time where workers were not under the protection of trade unions or workers rights when discussing Marx, this point remains relevant in a world so vulnerable to shifting markets. When discussing the elderly demographic for deserving unemployment benefit, it is necessary for there to be automatic access as unemployment is not exclusive to the younger working ages. As unemployment also impacts older citizens in the United Kingdom before they receive their state pension, the British government therefore offers the new style of Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) after the introduction of universal credit, for those looking for additional work to supplement their pension after retirement or to have a steady flow of income. (Age UK, 2019) As another alternate suggestion to the current welfare system as discussed previously with Singapore, this concept takes welfare further with the concept of a Universal Basic Income. (UBI) Offering a permanent basic income to everyone in society, in order to stabilise people’s lives further when it comes to personal finances. It is also noted for the modern stereotypes of “welfare” dependency, a basic income might actually increase people’s appetite for work, by adding to their sense of stability, and making things such as childcare and transport more accessible.
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In conclusion, the overall rules and regulations regarding the way benefits are distributed need to be fine tuned and ultimately put through a rigorous means-tested system to prevent the misuse of public funds and exploitation of the system. Lastly, in answering the question as to whether everyone should have automatic access to unemployment benefit/welfare when they are without a job: it is clear in a society so volatile, action is necessary for the benefit of a nation’s citizens in times of economic downturn and resultant unemployment. Although, means-tested application remains the current method in place for providing provisions for its people in struggling conditions, there will always be scope to look for and utilise alternate solutions such as Singapore’s Central Provident Fund through forced saving from a young age, to a Universal Basic Income providing instant assistance to everyone for a more stable society. Ultimately, it is to find a perfect balance and the most beneficial way for both those struggling without employment and the taxpayers that help fund the fiscal spending on social welfare within a democratic society.
- Disability Benefits, Welfare Reform and Employment Policy – p1 Colin Lindsay, Donald Houston
Why We Need a New Welfare State
- By Gsta Esping-Andersen, Professor of Sociology Gosta Esping-Andersen, Gøsta Esping-Andersen, Duncan Gallie, Anton Hemerijck, John Myles 2002
- Tyler, I (2013) Revolting Subjects: Social Abjection and Resistance in Neoliberal Britain. London: Zed.
- Jensen, T., & Tyler, I. (2015). ‘Benefits broods’: The cultural and political crafting of anti-welfare commonsense. Critical Social Policy, 35(4), 470-491.
- Wiggan, J. (2012). Telling stories of 21st century welfare: The UK Coalition government and the neo-liberal discourse of worklessness and dependency. Critical Social Policy, 32(3), 383-405.
- Esping‐Andersen, G. (1990), The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
- Anthony Giddens Sociology (2006) p921 6th edition
- Wiggan, J. (2015). Reading active labour market policy politically: An autonomist analysis of Britain’s Work Programme and Mandatory Work Activity. Critical Social Policy, 35(3), 369-392.
- The theory of surplus value, Karl Marx draft manuscript 1863.
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