Britain's young unemployed

The nature and impact of financial issues

Britain's young unemployed

Postby Gavin » 17 Feb 2013, 19:22

I was just saying in another thread how I like Iain Duncan Smith and believe he actually is a conservative. Thus it is not surprising to see the BBC present some recent comments from him with the following headline, bound to anger their liberal readers:


He is predictably insulted in the comments below. But I actually think he's right. Right to point to Sir Terry Leahy having started his career as a shelf-stacker, too.

What is it with these young liberals? They're anti-elitist and then they think that shelf stacking is somehow something to be embarrassed about? That job needs doing. What should be more embarrassing is Poles coming and doing it better.

I can also see nothing wrong with people having to do a certain amount of work for their benefits either. This would be very good for them, I think.
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Re: Britain's young unemployed

Postby Tom » 18 Feb 2013, 00:13

I might be about to 'out' myself as a closet lefty. I actually have a lot of sympathy with the old-fashioned left as representatives of the interests of the British working class: a group that I feel is not really represented in politics anymore.

I agree with you, Gavin, that it would be good for people to work for their benefits. I believe that free money corrupts and sadly that free money given to the needy is particularly corrupting, because it rewards and thus encourages neediness. However, there are some serious problems with the work fair scheme in the UK.

Some jobs, such as shelf stacking, have an inelastic demand. If we train a cadre of superb shelf stackers, it will not increase the number of shelf stacking jobs available. Therefore if Tesco can employ benefits claimants at zero cost, they will displace paid workers at a time of high unemployment, proportionately increasing the number of benefit claimants. I can't believe this is a net good. In fact, if the displaced workers, when they claimed benefits, were themselves made to displace other workers and the process repeated, eventually everyone would be working, claiming job seekers allowance, and getting no additional salary. Of course this eventuality is unrealistic but I think it shows that replacing a paid worker with an 'unpaid' benefits claimant is a step in the wrong direction.

Another way of looking at the same process is that it is the combination of two actions: replacing one worker with another, and replacing his salary with benefits. The first of these actions might be approximately neutral in terms of benefits to society. I can see arguments for and against it. The second action is surely harmful. It is an undeserved transfer of money from tax-payers to private companies.

On the other hand, there are jobs that need doing which aren't being done: picking up litter springs to mind. It was probably a carefully selected case, but the geology graduate was doing voluntary work in a museum. It seems stupid to stop her doing that so that she can displace a shelf stacker.
For jobs with a more elastic demand, such as perhaps gardeners, I feel the scheme is more defensible, at least where there is a true benefit from being trained in the job (I do not believe that most people require weeks of training to stack shelves).

Another argument against the scheme is that it is unfair. It isn't as unfair as taking money from people that work to pay for people that won't, but human nature being what it is, it is inevitable that someone made to work for their benefits will feel unfairly treated when he compares himself to a neighbour who isn't. One might be tempted to say 'tough', but that attitude discounts the fact that a dissatisfied worker is likely to be inefficient or even disruptive. In this sense I feel that the scheme is idealistic and attempting to work against the grain of human nature in a way that is reminiscent of 'to each according to his need, from each according to his ability' ideologies of fairness.

So far I haven't said much that is constructive. I feel that the situation has been made worse, at least for the British working class, by the importation of cheap labour. Economics research notwithstanding, I believe that immigrant labour has increased native unemployment and lowered unskilled wages, while making goods cheaper for the rest of us. Therefore I think reducing unskilled immigration would mitigate the problem of unemployment in Britain.

Another thing that would help the situation would be to make companies pay to employ job seekers so that they were paid more than they would be if they weren't working. I think George Osborne intended originally to overhaul benefits in such a way that you would always benefit from working, and the more you worked, the more you benefitted. I very much admired that plan, but it seems to have been shelved. Perhaps there was no way to carry it out without increasing costs or decreasing the minimum level of benefits. I've never seen it explained. We are caught in the dilemma of retaining benefits which harm individuals and society or decreasing them and thereby hurting the deserving poor (to use an old fashioned and very un-PC phrase).

Sorry for the meandering post. I hope to improve the organisation of my thoughts by writing here. I hope that some of my ideas are intelligible.
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Re: Britain's young unemployed

Postby Paul » 18 Feb 2013, 02:02

I am from and in the working class. I'm a craftsman, an artisan (ahem). I work with my hands (and eyes). It's a 'real' job. Production and trade. I run a small business, have done for 28 years.

I work alone. It's far too onerous to employ someone in the UK. There are in any case very few now with the requisite skills. I would hardly even consider employing, even casually or contractually, anyone under the age of say........ thirty. Maybe thirty-five. Could even now be forty! Sorry about that, but I will be proved almost unnerringly correct.

The very last thing I would want is a benefit claimant foisted onto me to 'work' for me. I would offer a polite refusal. If pressure was applied I would consider myself under oppression (once more) and resist. So - touch wood. Let's hope none of this comes my way.

If I was Tesco and could absorb the inefficiency (it is free inefficiency after all), the likely bad time-keeping, the mistakes, the potential for accidents and even the possibility of pilfering, I might feel differently. Hard to see how mind. Still, I wouldn't like to be the store manager responsible in that branch for 2 or 3 long-term unemployed wandering about in the stock-room, etc.

I realise that's a rather stereotypical view of all the unemployed as Jeremy Kyle Show type potential layabouts. But in some areas that's what you're likely to get - and they are everywhere. I see people wandering about the streets all the time and can imagine them with horror on my premises. And imagine what they would talk about.....!

I don't know that the example claimants (shop workers) who last week triumphed in court (and others-to-be like them) are actually taking a job that was available in the first place. Or displacing an existing job. In many cases it might be that a store has just the right amount of staff for the duties at hand. Few employers ever wish to over-employ, not these days. So it isn't a given that this work done by allocated claimants was of a quantity that required an extra worker - particularly as the amount of work is likely to be slipshod and innacurate. It's likely as not that any work done by the claimant would have, ordinarily, been taken up between the existing staff. What happens now is that the regular staff have an easing of the burden (in theory) or at best, a little bit more gets done each day. It's only for a few weeks after all too. Like lots of these schemes there is no permanence, just continual confusion and upheaval. There's all the potential for conflict too because regular staff will feel superior and claimants of zero wages will feel inferior and thus resentful. That's a kind of worst case scenario but I can see that being a fairly good guess as to what might occur. There are also only so many shelves need stacking as someone said earlier.

Litter-picking is however a fine opportunity. Gardening sounds good too. Civic maintenance. Imagine the sheer potential for resentment with these tasks.


I had a delivery at work this last week of some supplies, from a well-known parcel courier. The driver asked if he could use the WC, so he came indoors. As he was leaving we were chatting about ....... probably the weather and the state of the nation (obviously then he's white English by the way). I've forgotten how the matter arose but he began to tell me how the large, new, white van he uses belongs to the courier company, but - he is contracted to drive it and deliver parcels on a self-employed basis. Hmmm, there's a catch here.

So, in the event that anything happens to the vehicle whilst in his custody - he is responsible for it and for any costs incurred for damage. The week before last he had three tyres slashed overnight whilst the vehicle was parked at his home address. Welcome to Britain as we all know. In the morning the roadway was covered with light snow. It was still dark. He was cold and somewhat miserable I suppose, not looking forward to a day's driving in bad conditions in crowded towns. He didn't notice the damaged tyres and got in the driving seat and set off. Within 30 feet he had slithered into a slight ditch and got stuck. He had to call out ATS (Tyre services) at a cost of £150. They informed him he had also damaged 3 wheel rims. They eventually replaced 3 wheels and with 3 brand new tyres. He didn't have the cash to pay but they will invoice the courier company. He knows from experience the tyres are £130 each. He isn't sure how much the wheels will cost but will find out next week when the whole amount is deducted from his month's pay. He estimates about £800 or more. Here's another killer blow. Written into his contract is a penalty clause of £75 per half day of absence from work. On or for the day of the wheels and tyres fiasco he will also be 'fined' £150 by the company as the whole day was lost. Granted the company makes claims and pride themselves on rapid 'next-day' deliveries anywhere on mainland Britain. It's a ruthless industry in many ways.

I asked him what was the point of insurance and surely the company insured the vehicles. Indeed, but the 'excess' on all vehicle claims was £1000. Anything less and the driver pays.

It's hard to see how this type of contract is accepted, or even legal. I told him he was in effect paying them to work for them though of course this is not the case. The sheer competetiveness of the industry and the labour market makes it so. Throw in accidents and especially crime and it can be a nightmare.

As the driver says, he wants to work and in any case has no choice. If he gives that up he's at the mercy of the Benefit Agency who frankly don't have an answer - or rather jobs to offer.


My brother is a partner in a construction company. He's currently doing contract work for Marks & Spencer, all over Britain and even some in Germany. They are continually having to go on Asbestos Awareness Courses, despite having been on lots of them already. New site, more asbestos (or possible asbestos), another course. The one he's been on today, with 2 apprentices, cost £660 + VAT (he'll reclaim the VAT). The first two hours of the course (Sunday afternoon) is 'Induction'.

I'm sorry but the whole thing sounds like East Germany in the 1970s to me. Notwithstanding you pay for the privelege too. This is the best bit - the 'Training Company' is actually owned by Marks & Spencers.

We all know now that asbestos is bad stuff. Nobody is going to go rolling around in it, inhaling deeply. Nobody will go near it without a good mask and gloves, etc. But still everything has to be nannied and then invoiced to boot.

Finally he and others have told me of a phenomenum that's begun appearing on certain construction sites in the last few years. Houses are being built and are in the partial, unfinished stages. Daubed on brick walls with paint (pre-plastering) are messages left by European workers, along these lines:

We are here you English and we are taking your houses, stealing your tax and f***ing your women!


Naturally this is driving some in the industry to fury. The ones that are left that is.

There's a whole lot of things wrong and at breaking point in the remnants of British industry. There are too many people here, not enough jobs, far too much regulation and everything is increasingly corporate, even the business of employing people in and of itself. There's big trouble ahead.
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Re: Britain's young unemployed

Postby Elliott » 18 Feb 2013, 02:41

Those are amazing (and depressing) facts, Paul. Forgive my naivety if I'm stating the obvious, but are M&S basically forcing their contract workers to go on these needless courses, simply so as to get some money back from them that they've paid them for doing the contract work?
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Re: Britain's young unemployed

Postby Gavin » 18 Feb 2013, 20:58

Tom, thanks for your contribution. Paul, I can understand your position. I have heard many potential employers call into LBC, when I used to listen to it, with the same concerns. Applicants, if they turned up at all, would be illiterate, lazy and often turn up only once.

I too would be extremely reluctant to employ anyone, even on a contract basis, because it is so hard for an employer to get rid of anyone these days. I think employment legislation is skewed greatly in favour of the employee and that fact (along with Facebook!) may account for a lot of our poor economic performance, quite frankly.

I also agree about all of these "courses in common sense". They appear to me to be a disgraceful waste of money. I have been subjected to them myself and I dread to think what the unskilled people were paid for speaking the obvious. (This is especially galling since I've trained computer programming to hundreds of people and that's quite technical!)

I'd like to say more but am too busy at the moment! Thanks, though.
Gavin
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