Grayling promises school leavers three months of unpaid work in exchange for benefits. I for one would rather play computer games
A spectre is haunting Britain. The spectre of computer games. “We don’t want [young people] waking up at lunchtime and playing computer games all day,” said a Department of Work and Pensions spokesman.
A genuine concern. Every experience point accumulated on World of Warcraft represents valuable minutes of labour energy that could be channeled fruitfully into the private sector. As Keynes first noted in The General Theory of Unemployment, Interest and Money (1936), sticky wages, and the total number of hours spent murdering prostitutes in Grand Theft Auto, are key determinants of the rate of unemployment.
To discourage gaming, then, 16-to-24 year-olds will have to do three months’ unpaid charity work before they can claim benefits, unless they have already been in work for six months.
“The usual suspects will cry ‘slave labour’. They always do,” says Grayling.
You have to empathise. It’s difficult for the Conservatives to do anything - liberalize Sunday trading hours, send troops into the Suez canal, repeal the Corn Laws – without someone accusing them of reintroducing slave labour.
But it’s not slave labour. Since school leavers will have to work 30 hours per week for three months before they can claim benefits of £56 per week, after 3 months of benefits claims they’ll have been rewarded with a juicy effective wage rate of £3.56/hr. In fact, if they live in London, they’ll eventually be able to afford to travel into Zone 1 and back almost every day.
It’s not all sweetness and light, however. Requiring people to live off no money actually poses a few surprising and entirely unforeseeable problems.
For instance, humans have an inconvenient but historically persistent need to find and consume food. This provides them with energy that they need for important tasks, like looking for jobs, and not dying. It also costs money to live in a house, and to travel to work. So, unless these 16-to-24 year olds not in education or training (Neets) have personal wealth – which is a cruel joke – they will have to live with their parents, who will be subsidising their unpaid placements by feeding them and paying for them to travel.
The vast majority of families with Neets are working families in poverty. So Grayling is proposing to lower the household income of those already in poverty. This clashes inconveniently with the Government’s stated aim of reducing the number of households in poverty.
Forcing 16-to-24 year olds to live with parents prevents in-migration to places where jobs exist. If you live in Merthyr Tydfil, which in 2011 had an applicants-to-vacancies ratio of 32.7:1, you won’t be moving anywhere with a more hospitable labour market anytime soon.
And not everyone can live with their parents. Some 16-to-24 year olds do not like their parents. Some are married. Some have children. And, like fully-sized humans, children also need food.
There is a cynical explanation for the change. The Tories’ strategy borrows the electoral logic that predominated during the Thatcher era: it’s fine to redistribute government spending away from people who don’t vote for you. After all, only 23.5 per cent of those under 35 voted Tory in 2010, while a plurality of voters supports the change .
It makes for good politics, but bad policy. Since, to state the blindingly obvious, not all unemployed 16-to-24 year olds suffer from crippling attitude problems.
Lest the Conservatives forget, the level of employment also has something to do with firms and their behaviour. It has something to do with skills, with opportunities to develop skills, local economies, and macroeconomic conditions.
For this is where Tory macroeconomic policy becomes self-defeating. The deficit is ostensibly the principal goal of Osborne’s fiscal policy. In pursuit of a smaller deficit, growth suffers. When growth suffers, the willingness of firms to provide jobs goes down. And, as the public sector sheds jobs, struggling regional economies, with more than their fair share of Neets, suffer disproportionately.
Conservative macroeconomic policy, we should remember, is likely to fail according to its own sadomasochistic criteria for success: to halve the deficit by the end of the Parliament, and to have eliminated the structural deficit by 2015.
It has also failed by less fetishistic standards. The economy is shrinking, and with it, living standards for the majority of us are declining. Simultaneously, however, the IMF has claimed that it is highly unlikely that relaxations of austerity would have the deleterious consequences Osborne warns of.
Neets pose a considerable and difficult policy problem. Yet the Minister for Employment displays staggering complacency by blaming youth unemployment on the unemployed themselves, and simple idiocy by mentioning computer games.Tagged in: Chris Grayling, computer games, gaming, grand theft auto, Neets, unemployment, video games, workfare, World of Warcraft
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