Politicians and newspapers keep reminding us that unemployed people have a duty to do everything they can to get jobs. “It’s about rights and responsibilities”, they tell us, “they get help to find jobs, but in return they have to play their part.” It sounds as if there’s a wonderful set of programmes to help people once they lose their jobs, but they are so ungrateful.
The reality, as anyone who has worked with unemployed people knows, is rather different. Nick Clegg’s Youth Contract, for instance, provides support for just one in ten of the young unemployed people it claims to help. Most unemployed people desperately want jobs, and that is especially true of long-term unemployed people. Those who haven’t been in this position before are often shocked by how little this country does to help.
I was reminded of these truths this week by the Council of Europe’s latest report on how well the UK is doing on implementing the European Social Charter. This country was one of the first signatories, back in 1961, and the first section of the first article commits the UK
to accept as one of their primary aims and responsibilities the achievement and maintenance of as high and stable a level of employment as possible, with a view to the attainment of full employment
Reasonably, the European Committee of Social Rights, which produced the report, regards investment in labour market programmes as a key test of a country’s commitment to this first – and fundamental – obligation.
Unfortunately, the UK couldn’t even provide the Committee with information about the number of people taking part in training, job rotation/sharing, employment incentives, supported employment, rehabilitation, job creation and start-up incentives. But they did note that the UK only spent 0.34 per cent of GDP on these programmes in 2010 and the average for the EU27 (that is, including the much poorer countries of Eastern Europe) was more than twice that – 0.78 per cent.
You don’t have to be especially adept at reading between the lines to sense how critical they were:
The Committee nevertheless notes from Eurostat that the activation rate in the United Kingdom (measured as participants in active measures per 100 persons wanting to work) was 1.5% in 2009. This was the lowest figure among the EU-27, where the average that year was 28.9%. Given that unemployment increased during the reference period, the Committee considers that the number of jobseekers who received active assistance was very low, and asks whether there are plans to make active measures available to a larger number of beneficiaries.
It’s worth looking at the original data in the Eurostat database to see just how lamentable the UK’s performance truly is:
Last month I wondered whether our government prayed “thank God for Bulgaria” for making this country look good in international comparisons. Perhaps I was unfair – they should be praying “thank God for Britain.”