Friday, 12 November 2010

Active Labour Markets

Active Labour Markets; This is the technical term for the reforms proposed to unemployment benefit. Philosophically they adhere to the amendment to the ideas of social rights which formed the foundations of the post war Beveridge welfare state; From simple social rights to what Blair best termed 'rights with responsibilities.'

In historical terms the seeds of change emanated from the 'crisis' in the welfare state which arose from collapse of the full-employment economy in the 1970s. The social-insurance model Beveridge created was only intended as a short-term stop gap never a long-term solution so was ill-equipped to cope with the new phenomena of long term unemployment.

Some 40 years on and the problem of long-term employment has never really been solved. My old Exec director was often fond of saying that in our City there were now families where three generations had not worked.

Are active labour market policies the answer? As Polly Toynbee points out about 1.5 million people are expected to lose their job in the next 2 years. She also hits on another key point; that is what will happen to those most on the margins, will the most vulnerable be the most heavily penalised?

It is here that the devil really is in the detail. Per se, most people - even a room of left-leaning Social Policy students, will agree on the face of it with active labour market policies - so long as the carrot is as big as the stick. That is so long as the policy places emphasis on incentives and support to those most in need.

This DWP report, based on viewing other countries policies, published last year highlights some of the key conditions which need to be met:

1. Personalised support and early intervention for 'those most in need'

2. Adaquate staff/client ratios

3.Specific support for 'harder to help customers'

4. Subsidized work placements and on the job training.

It remains to be seen whether these conditions are met. If they are not all that remains will be an excessively punative system cutting benefits for the vulnerable and shunting others into low-pay, no-prospect Mcjobs

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