Sean O'Grady: If the jobs aren't there, the stick won't work

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The Independent Online

There is a big lie at the heart of the Government's welfare-to-work plan: that the reason people are unemployed and on benefits is because they prefer to be – what the Chancellor calls a "lifestyle choice". Even if that were true, it cannot explain the jump in unemployment since 2008. We might more fruitfully consider the possibility that a million fewer people at work has something to do with the worst slump in 75 years, rather than a sudden national desire to stay under the duvet.

The facts are this: prior to the recession, the economy had around 700,000 vacancies and that has now shrunk to 500,000, against 2.5 million jobless. Three years ago there were two or three jobless people chasing every job vacancy; now there are five or six.

In South Wales, the West Midlands and the North-east, the picture is bleaker, as hundreds chase every job.

Younger people have been hit the hardest. Almost a million, one in five, are out of work and they risk being locked out of the labour market for the rest of their lives. That happened in the 1980s, the last time talent was so wasted.

If the jobs are not there, there is no stick large enough to get the unemployed into work. The Government's policy is economically illiterate and morally flawed.

Before the big lie took hold, it was the duty of a British government to maintain full employment; that responsibility has now been handed to the jobless themselves, the group least able to deliver it.