There has been a lot of talk about trying to instil a job culture on the long-term unemployed. The proposals from the UK Government seem to me to be based on the assumption that people living in poverty do not have a culture of work and self development. This is rather puzzling, because many unemployed people held jobs at some point in their lives. It would be useful to find out why they are no longer in paid work. The Church’s experience, gathered through our long-term involvement working in deprived areas in Scotland as well that of organisations like Faith in Community Scotland and the Poverty Truth Commission show that very many people who are not working would love to do so. We are also aware of the huge contribution which many so called unemployed people already make as carers and volunteers. This evidence does not tally with the image of fraud, job-aversion, and job-shyness presented by those in government arguing for punitive approaches and draconian cuts to the welfare system. I believe this is a misrepresentation of the reality of poverty and have joined church leaders across the UK in pointing out that the poor are currently not being heard and their reality has not been addressed by policy makers.
Sometimes it is hard to understand something that you have never experienced yourself. This is why, in partnership with Martin Johnstone of the Scotland’s Poverty Truth Commission, we have invited Mr Osborne to come and talk to members of the Commission in order to hear first hand their stories of struggle and survival in poverty. Who knows? Some really creative and dignity enhancing back-to-work schemes might be the outcome of such an encounter.
Anyone who currently holds a job, could face the misfortune of being unemployed and on benefits. Unemployment is a misfortune and people should be treated with dignity in their efforts to regain employment. It is well recognised that effective solutions to problems need to have the direct involvement of all stakeholders. People who are unemployed and those who are poor are undoubtedly major stakeholders in any welfare reform proposals; they are also voters. Have they been consulted?