The Benefits System, created after the war with the noblest of intentions to provide support to people temporarily out of work, has evolved into a monster which is now sustaining a vast army of unemployed people. Now it is obviously wrong that some people play the system for their advantage, and it is obviously unfair when people in work have to manage where they live and the number of children they have depending on their income, whereas some people on benefits are able to live in exclusive areas and have large families, safe in the knowledge the state will keep paying all their costs. However instances of people abusing the system that way are a minority, and mask a much deeper underlying problem, which is basically this.
The state provides benefits based on what is decided to be a minimum acceptable standard of living (ie rent, council tax, food, heating costs etc are covered.) The reason so many people are unemployed is because frequently getting a job would mean they would get less money than they do on benefits, and so their standard of living would drop below the acceptable minimum. And who in their right mind would take work in order to get less money? So the question is how are employers able to pay a wage less than the acceptable minimum? The answer is that because of uncontrolled immigration there is no shortage of people prepared to work for less money than will provide an acceptable standard of living, because they come from countries where the standard of living is so much lower. They are prepared to live in cramped squalid conditions, sometimes sleeping up to 8 to a room, and are prepared to have what we would call a poor quality of life, because to them it is still a lot better than the conditions they have come from. It should also be remembered that a worker in this country with a family to support, has to earn enough to support all their family members at UK cost-of-living prices. A worker from Eastern Europe for example, whose family are still in Eastern Europe, sends money home and only has to earn enough to support them at their local prices, which are a lot less than here. The net result is that many UK residents simply cannot afford to work (what kind of ridiculous paradox is that?), but there is no upward pressure on wages to address the problem because immigration is keeping wages low.
Now some say the solution to this is to increase the minimum wage, possibly to a level called the ‘Living Wage’. Though that would undoubtedly help workers in many job sectors, particularly service industries which have to take place in this country, it would also unfortunately bring other problems. The increased differential between wages here and wages in some of the poorer European countries would attract even more immigration. And the increased costs would also provide further incentive for many companies to relocate their operations abroad, where wages are lower (see Globalisation). Unfortunately, until the problem of uncontrolled immigration is dealt with there are no easy solutions.
The crucial point to remember here is it’s not the immigrants’ fault we are in this mess. They are simply doing what they can to earn a fair living. The fault lies in a system which cynically plays off workers against each other, so that those with money get cheap labour, cut their costs, and so have even more money, while those at the bottom have an endless struggle. The price is an army of perpetually unemployed people, which threatens the very fabric of our society.
Finally a point on Workfare – the proposed system whereby benefits claimants are forced to work for free in order to continue receiving benefits. This has stirred up a lot of controversy recently and for an analysis of it click here.