Sunday, April 21, 2013
"Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?"
—Ebenezer Scrooge, in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"
Finding people work (or getting people to work when there is an alternative) is one of society's age-old problems.
Recent reports show the unemployment rate in the U.K. at around 7.9%, and the U.S. at about 7.7%, give or take. I doubt those figures. I think they are both low, because, while they derive from the number of people receiving unemployment payments from the government (at least in the U.S.) they do not take into consideration the number of people whose "benefits" have run out and who have given up looking for work, but are still definitely "unemployed." (Again, in the U.S., at any rate.)
In Victorian times, there was, theoretically, no such thing as "unemployed." You either had a job, working for yourself or for someone else, or you were employed by the government in a workhouse. For the latter, you were housed and fed and clothed, after a fashion, and schooled or trained for employment. The fruits of your labor is what produced or purchased the aforementioned food, shelter, clothing and education.
We all know it didn't really work, although it looked good on paper to those who were searching for a way to help the poor. In reality, it was pretty heartless.
Our President Clinton and legislature tried to bring back that concept through a system called "Workfare" in which those who were physically able were required to do work or school themselves in return for their welfare check. That hasn't set too well with the liberals. President Obama really doesn't like the concept of mandatory working in return for a paycheck, and has tried to change the law to where thinking about looking for work should be credited as actual work. None of this stuff seems to be working in the U.S. (although conservatives SAY it is working, and point to the large numbers of people who have managed to break the cycle of welfare dependancy through being assigned a job or training before they can eat.) I think it is being tried in Britain as well, or being talked about. With my humble knowledge of the British entitlement society, that isn't going to fly at all over there. I don't know if you've tried it or are just talking about it. I recommend you do NOT put it into practice.
Any suggestions on how to humanely replace the old workhouses? On the surface, I personally favor vocational training for those who are (truly) able-bodied -- but even as I say this I know that won't work. There are just too many unemployed who already have a skill and don't need training. They just can't find work in the field they are trained for. Mandatory retraining is repulsive to me because being retrained into work you hate kills the soul. There are probably other ideas. Of course, this assumes the reader of this is in agreement that it is good for a person to earn his own way in our society whenever possible, and that holding up liquor stores and selling drugs for a living is not good for society.
A good article on British workhouses is at http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Leeds/