Is this the lamest story of 2010?
Yesterday’s Telegraph had an arresting story. Leading on to a story plainly based on a DWP briefing, the headline claimed
750,000 welfare claimants ‘refuse work’, figures show
Quite a bit of my work is taken up with looking at news stories like this, following up the data sources and thinking about different ways they can be looked at. This is a rare example where everything you need to see that its a lot less impressive than it looks is there in the report.
Someone just scanning the headline might get the impression that what we have here is three quarters of a million work-dodgers. But the 744,000 total is for several years, ten in fact. I suppose they added up ten years’ worth because
74,400 a year refused to work or gave up jobs to claim benefits
would have looked a lot less impressive.
Secondly, of that three quarters of a million, 444,000 were people who left their jobs voluntarily and another 123,000 were sacked for misconduct; they then found when they claimed Jobseeker’s Allowance that they didn’t qualify.
Trades unions have a fair bit of experience of these rules. For one thing, the employer’s definition of ‘misconduct’ may not be what you or I might expect. Another problem is that the rules on leaving work voluntarily simply aren’t widely known; we’ve tried to publicise them to workers in the past, but its very hard to get people to take an interest in JSA rules before they make a claim.
What we know about both these groups of workers is that they aren’t people who’ve thought to themselves “I’ve had enough of work, I fancy an easy life on benefits instead.” Some are people have been sacked unfairly, some have reached a point where going on seems impossible, most think they’re going to get new jobs quickly. We can have a debate about whether the benefit system should be open to them, but they aren’t lazy, they aren’t out to abuse the benefit system.
In fact, the average number sanctioned for turning down a job offer was just 17,700 a year (remember that there are more than a quarter of a million JSA claims every month).
The point of the article in the Daily Telegraph was to justify the government’s harsher new penalties for people who break JSA rules. But the problem with the people who leave work or are sacked is that they don’t know that’s against the rules, it isn’t that the penalties are too weak to deter them.
The government wants to give the impression that people on JSA can claim the benefit and then turn down every job offer. We agree that that would be wrong, but there simply isn’t the evidence that this is a widespread problem that justifies harsher new rules.