It’s a sin

I listened to Iain Duncan Smith’s interview on Radio 4 this morning when he was introducing his ideas about reforming welfare. He made the point that what he wanted to change was the situation where people are disadvantaged by taking a job, in that they lose so many benefits that work forces them into greater poverty. When questioned about whether there were the jobs available to get people back into work – during a period of slow growth / recession – Iain Duncan Smith pointed out that part of the problem was that the current system failed to get people back into work even when the economy was growing and millions of new jobs were created.

He put it like this:

‘We created over four million jobs in those 13 years and…70 per cent of those net jobs were taken by people from overseas because people in this county weren’t capable or able to take those jobs. Surely that’s a sin.’

He clearly means that the sin is the current benefits system in that it does two specific things: it makes some people unable / unwilling to take a job because they are financially disadvantaged by doing so, and it fails to give others the skills that would enable them to take a job if they wanted it. The sin is not that foreign workers were able to fill the roles, but that British workers were not able to fulfill the roles for the above two reasons.

Naturally the Daily Mail – in their latest, shameless abuse of language – have distorted this meaning completely with their headline: ‘Handing millions of jobs to foreigners while benefits bill soared was a ‘sin’, declares IDS‘. Frankly, this headline appals me with its dishonesty. Once again, the Daily Mail blames the foreigner, this time they get the blame for the ‘benefits bill’ soaring because they took all of the jobs; which at least makes a change from blaming them for making the benefits bill soar by taking all of the benefits.

There are a few things wrong with the Daily Mail headline. Firstly, no-one was ‘handed’ a job. The whole point IDS was making was that the jobs created by a growing economy could not be ‘handed’ to those on benefits because they either were not capable of doing them or they could not afford to lose the benefits that would be taken away should they take up a position. Foreigners were not ‘handed’ jobs at the expense of those on benefits, rather they had to be brought in because of the failure of the current system to make work pay and to provide the relevant skills to those out of work. Secondly, the ‘benefits bill soared’ because those on benefits were either unemployable or not prepared to work for the reason given above, it has nothing to do with foreign workers.

Presumably the foreign workers actually helped the situation by filling the positions and paying taxes – generating public and private wealth – that would have otherwise remained vacant and would have prevented growth.

This is not just another misleading / dishonest headline from the Daily Mail, but an article that rams home the dishonest message from the first word:

Iain Duncan Smith today branded giving millions of jobs to foreigners while the benefits bill soared a ‘sin’ as he unveiled draconian sanctions to limit the handouts.

The Work and Pensions Secretary condemned the way so many posts created while Labour were in power went to immigrants rather than British workers.

As above, IDS said no such thing and was trying to point out that our reliance on foreign workers was not a New Labour plot to change the ethnicity of Britain, but it was caused by a benefits system that makes it more beneficial not to work and doesn’t provide the right training opportunities to the unemployed so that they can fill skills gaps in the jobs market. Labour didn’t give jobs to immigrants at the expense of the unemployed, they simply failed in the task of making the unemployable employable. After all, the market – the free market that the Mail loves so much – determines who gets a job and who doesn’t, the government can only try to equip the unemployed to fulfill the market requirements. This isn’t easy and in a globalised world this need is often met by the movement of labour – or immigration as it is more widely known.

As usual the Daily Mail ignores any semblance of complexity and instead completely distorts the truth to repeat a favourite, dishonest narrative of theirs: that in reality as ever, it is the foreigner who is to blame for our ‘soaring benefits bill’ and the unemployed citizens of the UK.


The article – as pointed out in the comments has now been extensively re-written and the comments have been deleted. The Daily Mail now has a more accurate story on their website, but they have already milked the outraged, xenophobic traffic from the previous headline and content.

10 thoughts on “It’s a sin”

  1. Y’know, I’m on benefits because I can’t find work. And the only way I can stay afloat (well I’m not, really, still sinking just a bit slower) is by living with my mom at 22 years old. I really don’t understand how people can “live on benefits” to the extent that getting a job actually constitutes a loss of earnings.
    I’d appreciate it if someone could tell me though, because I really would like more money.

  2. Meee
    As a single parent I found myself in the position a few years ago that going to work would leave me no better off, mainly due to the fact that I had childminding and full rent and council tax to pay.
    A lot of people are in the same situation and I can understand how reluctant they would be to come off benefits.
    If I hadn’t gone back to work I wouldn’t have worked my way into a position where I had a lot more money coming in and I wouldn’t have been setting an example for my son. I really feel sorry for all the children growing up in households where they’ve never seen their parents go to work.

  3. In the case of a friend of mine, he worked out that once he factored in the cost of running his car in order to get to work, he was only £48 a month better off than he would be on the dole. Before you ask, public transport was not an option – not only would the savings have been negligible, but would have made his journey to and from work considerably longer due to the poor scheduling of buses in the area.

  4. What these reports fail to mention is that most of those migrants were from places like Australia. I don’t hear much talk of people asking them to leave…

  5. Carole Malone wrote a particularly nasty attack on the unemployed in yesterday’s News Of The World, saying that “being a couch potatoe is not a human right” and that there are jobs out there but people are just to lazy to go and get them.
    The horrid woman claims to be a socialist but she is so far up the Tories’ backsides!
    Of course she is “socialist” when it suits her, when she wants to launch into a bitter rant against celebrities who have more money than her!

  6. meee

    the way the current system works, a lot of people lose 96p of benefits for every £1 they earn from employment, and for many others it’s not much better.

    observers may notice that other than those who just attack everything that comes from a tory mouth, nobody has argues that IDS is wrong about these issues, and that it’s right that something is done. the current benefits system does, financially speaking, disincentivise work (or, at the very least, provide no financial incentive to choose work over benefits where the choice exists). whilst ‘the right’ will tend to overstate the degree to which people choose to be on benefits, it’s naive of people to suggest that a lot of people don’t to exactly that.

  7. Why is the total sum of state benefits not simply capped at the equivalent of a full-time minimum wage job? Or, perhaps, slightly less to account for the cost of transport to a workplace (as per Ben’s point above).

    I appreciate it may not be a perfect fix and obvious exceptions would need to be made for those on long-term incapacity and genuinely unable to work or pensioners.

    IMHO, the welfare state currently supports the can’t work/won’t work in society. By bringing the maximum state benefits in line with a minimum wage, it would reduce the burden of those who ‘won’t work’ and allow the welfare state to support those people it was designed to help … the people who can’t work.

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