David Cameron opened the debate last night with a list economic priorities. No 1 on his list were benefit scroungers - whom he ranked ahead of bankers as the folk who have brought the country to its knees. So this piece on "shirking scroungers" by the Guardian's David Conn is timely.
Ask around among people comfortably off, agreeably in work, how much they imagine unemployment benefit is in these recession-bitten times, and, in my experience, they guess, generally, about £100 per week. Enough for a difficult life, not servicing any luxuries, but paying, just about, for necessities until the job market picks up. These people are invariably as palpably shocked as the newly unemployed themselves are when they turn up to sign on, to discover that jobseeker's allowance pays £65.45 a week to a single person over 25. Those under 25, hardest hit in this recession, including thousands of graduates struggling to find work, must make do on just £51.85 a week.To read the rest of David Conn's article click here
This is much worse than the early years of mass unemployment under the Thatcher government. I remember a good many people then getting work under the Manpower Services Commission scheme, which paid a basic wage, and often funded some quite worthwhile community projects such as summer childcare schemes and pensioners lunchclubs. MSC jobs were, however, filled by young people. What of the older unemployed, depicted in Alan Bleasdale's Boys from the Blackstuff? Yosser, or at least Bernard Hill the actor who played him, went on to find gainful employment as King Theoden, ruler of the mighty horsemen of Rohan in Lord of the Rings. The real world is not so accomodating to the redundant middle aged. I remember "older people" in their forties and fifties at that time who never worked again.
The 1980s will seem like luxury compared to what's in store once the cuts come. These are cuts none of the parties will detail - hence the SNP dubbing this the Iceberg Election. Whoever wins will pay in the long run though. The victor next Friday will be unelectable for a generation because of the austerity measures he will be forced to apply, according to the Bank of England governor Mervyn King whose private thoughts were reported in The Times today. The bankers will be fine though.