Gary's News and views

Gary Streeter MP for South West Devon

Gary writes a weekly article which appears in the Plympton Plymstock and Ivybridge News in South West Devon. The articles are published here.


Thursday, 3 September 2009


It is tough in a recession, when jobs are harder to come by, to tackle the thorny issue of worklessness, but tackle it we must. The news that one in six households in the UK has nobody in work should cause us all concern. The BBC illustrated this story with a Lego-like graphic of suburbia with every sixth house highlighted in red. It is not like that of course. Although there are pockets of worklessness everywhere, this is particularly a scourge of metropolitan Britain, with many inner city estates with very few people in work.

Even in the boom years there are too many people who have never had a job. Some have no intention of working and are probably the second or third generation of households where the concept of getting up in the morning, putting on a decent shirt and going off to work is as alien as flying to Mars. This group of people, a stubborn minority living in our midst, have sometimes been described as the Underclass, an unflattering term but accurate. Needless to say, crime, benefit fraud, drugs and anti-social order are not strangers to these doors. The sad thing is that such a lifestyle is not in their own interests because few of them flourish. Meaningful work is a necessary ingredient for a successful life.

Successive governments have tinkered endlessly with the benefit system and we still can’t seem to get this right. Those who are minded to play the system (characterised by the Boswell family in the hit TV drama Bread) will always find ways of fiddling. The real problem is that the measures necessary to tackle this problem would be so draconian that they might never be politically acceptable.

For example, to argue that those who have no intention of working should get no benefits at all runs smack bang into legitimate concerns about the dependants of such people; why should they suffer? Similarly, to argue that teenage girls getting pregnant should never get a council house, to remove the existing perverse incentive, raises issues about child welfare. You see the difficulty.

This stultifying welfare dependency has other consequences. Because so many Brits have no intention of working, we are attracting hard working immigrants to do the necessary work, which brings with it another set of long term challenges.

So the prize for cracking this tough nut would be very high indeed.  Can it be done, there’s the question?

posted by Gary @ 09:52