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Isn’t it obvious why we can’t find the 90,000 or so lorry drivers we need to avert the supply chain crisis that is leading to empty shelves in supermarkets and cutting the legs off the post-pandemic economic recovery? It’s clearly because all those people on universal credit are lazy bastards. That’s why Rishi Sunak is quite right to remove the £20 uplift he instituted at the start of the pandemic. That way they’ll be incentivised to get their indolent selves down to the local Jobcentre Plus and the problem will solve itself.
That, of course, is bollocks. A steaming heap of dung from the elephant enclosure at Whipsnade Zoo. The festering contents of your local council tip. Best get a clip for your nose. We’re going to be getting a lot more of this as the aforementioned crisis, which I’ve been writing an awful lot about recently because it’s one of the biggest problems the UK economy faces, continues to bite and other Brexit-related labour shortages find their way into the headlines.
There are solutions. Relaxing visa rules would be one. It’s something the CBI and others have been loudly calling for. Enhancing union rights so they can collectively bargain for better wages more easily is another. Over the long term it could help make some of these occupations a lot more attractive than they are today.
But the government doesn’t fancy either, certainly not when there’s the easy option of blaming the unemployed for their own plight and using it to justify a cruel policy like the cut to universal credit.
Last week, Boris Johnson gave a clear indication of how this is going to go as party conference season looms. “My strong preference is for people to see their wages rise through their efforts rather than through taxation of other people put into their pay packets, rather than welfare,” he declared. “The key focus for this government is on making sure that we come out of Covid strongly, with a jobs-led recovery, and I’m very pleased to see the way the unemployment numbers, the unemployment rate, has been falling. Employment has been rising, but also wages have been rising.”
Ergo, no need to retain the uplift because there’s clearly no need to be unemployed. There are jobs going begging. This ignores the fact that, for a start, you need to live where the jobs are and not everyone does. People on the breadline can’t simply up sticks with the aim of securing something close to the minimum wage.
You also need to be a suitable candidate to perform the roles that are available. Not everyone is. You may well also need skills and qualifications too, such as the licences required to pilot HGVs, which aren’t cheap to obtain.
It’s simply not true that thousands of claimants could overcome the poverty they and their children are going to be facing through that cut by knocking on the doors of their local Tesco and asking if the manager has a lorry they can drive.
But why let the facts get in the way of a good story, eh Boris? Why not instead have business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng lecture firms about the need to “hire British workers”.
They could easily have replied: “Don’t you think we’ve been trying?” But the prime minister and his colleagues aren’t remotely interested in listening to that because they’re playing another game. The aim is to establish the idea that unemployment is a matter of choice and that anyone on benefits is therefore a scrounger. This is how you mitigate the political problem of having the richest MP in the House of Commons (Sunak) taking £20 a week out of the pockets of the poorest people in Britain, while he’s having a gym and pool built at his Yorkshire des res.
It isn’t as if this would be the first time a Conservative government has sought to blame the victims of its policies for their own plight. So we’d best gird our loins and be prepared to shout “bulls***” very loudly, very often because, over the coming weeks and months, we’re going to be hearing a lot of the sort of arguments that Johnson delivered. And sometimes they’ll be even more explicitly expressed.