PowerPoint comes in for a lot of stick, but I’ve found it really handy while travelling around talking about work camps to local history groups. Most groups expect their speaker to carry on for an hour – something I can do perfectly happily, of course, but illustrations make the whole session a lot more interesting. So where do you find images of work camps?
For interwar Britain, postcards are an indispensable resource. Or at least, they are a great source of images, but so far I haven’t got much from the texts on the back. Apart from anything else, postcard messages are usually pretty short, and it often isn’t clear who sent them.
Here’s an example – a postcard of Ardentinny Instructional Centre that I use to illustrate talks to audiences in the west of Scotland. It was posted in summer 1939 by someone signing themself “J McN”, and addressed to a Miss Bannatyne…
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Could too much compassion in the welfare state hurt the very people it is supposed to help?
> How would we know ? Its never been tried….
Ed Miliband suggests that might be the case.
In a recent speech he drew on the ideas of a sociologist – Richard Sennett – who said compassion had the power to wound.
One of the Labour leader’s closest aides – the shadow minister Lord Wood – says that Sennett has made a “deep impression” on Miliband.
If the language sounds a bit academic, the reaction to Sennett’s theory at a South London woman’s group called Skills Network is anything but.
In a couple of rooms beside a railway line, women gather for training, moral support and shared childcare.
Many are single parents, some do not have permanent homes.
Most rely on the state. None trusts it.
“We are patronised by all these people that are supposed to be there for us,” says Onley.
“Anyone of official status comes to visit a family you’re almost on edge, even down to midwives after you’ve had a baby,” adds Hannah.
They are not merely sceptical of the state’s professionals, they see them as a threat.
One mother explains her experience of being visited by social workers.
“They always have a tick register in their purse and they take it out,” she says. “All these things are useless. Nothing is changing my life. In fact they’re wasting my time and their time.”
The feeling for some is not of disenchantment, but outright hostility.
Onley says: “Because you’re given something does that mean we should just lie there and take whatever you give us and don’t argue about anything or ask any questions?
“People need to be treated as equal human beings.”
Sennett blames that attitude on the way the state works. He has written: “Charity itself has the power to wound; pity can beget contempt; compassion can be intimately linked to inequality.“
> Yeah, but the biggest problem surely is not too much compassion – its not enough compassion.
Like the lack of compassion that enforces benefit sanctions that drive people to poverty and crime. Like the lack of compassion that claims that people at death’s door are fit for work.
The danger here is that the likes of Milliband (just another neo-liberal, after all) will use dodgy concepts like “too much compassion being bad for people” as a basis for more cuts.
And perhaps any sociologist who thinks “Charity itself has the power to wound; pity can beget contempt; compassion can be intimately linked to inequality”, wants to wait until they’re actually reliant on it before they start talking bollocks.
In an interview for BBC Radio 4’s the World at One programme, Wood says Labour is interested in the idea that inequality is partly about the gap in respect and power between the state, and people on the receiving end of its services and benefits.
In embracing some of Sennett’s thinking, Wood suggests Miliband intends to do things differently from the way previous Labour administrations have behaved.
“Here’s the difference with maybe Labour parties of before,” he says. “In addressing inequality you can’t just have a central state that adds up the ledger of who is doing well and who is doing not and just sort of reshuffle money around and ask people to fit certain categories that the government’s devised.
“You’ve got to think about shifting power back down as well as thinking about inequality in a deeper sense.”
> I’ve read that several times. It still seems to say exactly nothing…
That sounds a little like the critique of Gordon Brown’s attempts to deal with child poverty: that he was merely redistributing money to nudge people over a statistical line so they were no longer classed as impoverished.
Wood – who worked for Brown – does not repeat that criticism.
Pressed for examples of how his concerns translate into policy he highlights plans to hand control of parts of the work programme to some towns and cities and ideas about giving people more of a voice about where housing is built and how it’s allocated.
He argues that responsibility for policy needs to change so people affected by decisions feel they have a say.
Labour’s opponents will say that this is vague stuff.
The government argues it already understands the problem.
Ministers say they are changing the culture for benefit claimants, making their responsibilities clearer, and giving social housing tenants control of their own housing benefit.
Others will simply reflect that a focus on getting people off benefits and into jobs would sidestep many of these issues. With public money tight, officials would need to think carefully before skimping on the scrutiny they apply to the way funds are spent.
> If you wanted to be really radical, you could accept that the number of unemployed is around five times greater than the number of vacancies, and you will never get a quart into a pint pot.
Then, when you’ve got your head around this fact, then you might want to start thinking about where we go from here.
But until politicians can be honest enough to admit what the rest of us know – that there will always be more unemployed than jobs – then we’re never going to get anywhere.
Sennett is – unsurprisingly – pleased that Miliband embraces his thinking, but he doesn’t easily fit the mould of a “Miliband guru“.
He votes for the Green party and describes Miliband as “not a particularly charismatic politician” who may never have the chance to implement his idea.
And if Miliband does want to reshape Britain’s relationship with its welfare state, it won’t be easy.
In South London Hannah reflects on her encounters with its professionals.
“It’s almost like having the crocodile smile,” she says.
“You see all the smiley teeth and you’re waiting for the bite to come and get you.”
Source BBC News 17 April 2014
This article was written by Nicholas Watt, for The Guardian on Monday 10th March 2014
Every young person who has been unemployed for more than a year will lose their benefits if they decline to accept a guaranteed “starter job”, Labour will pledge in its manifesto for the general election next year.
> A preview of some of the new jargon we can expect in the future – starter job.
Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, will say on Monday that Labour will move to end the plight of “young people stuck on the dole” when he says that the party’s compulsory jobs guarantee, to be funded by a tax on bankers’ bonuses, will last the whole parliament.
The scheme, which will fund paid work with training for six months for those aged under 25 who have been out of work for more than a year, will also be paid for by cutting pensions tax relief for people earning over £150,000 to the same rate as basic rate taxpayers. Claimants will lose their benefits if they do not accept the jobs. The scheme will also apply to those aged 25 or over who have been claiming jobseeker’s allowance for two years or more.
> So, workfare by any other name ? Six-month starter jobs stacking shelves in Poundland ?
Labour launched its compulsory jobs guarantee last year. Balls believes the pledge will be a key element of Labour’s general election campaign by showing that the party is prepared to tax the rich to help provide work for people in danger of becoming Neets – not in employment, education or training.
Balls will say during a visit to a building project in south London which employs and trains young people: “It’s shocking that the number of young people stuck on the dole for more than a year has doubled under David Cameron. For tens of thousands of young people who cannot find work this is no recovery at all.”
The shadow chancellor will add: “We’ve got to put this right. So if Labour wins the next election we will get young people and the long-term unemployed off benefits and into work.
“The government will work with employers to help fund paid work with training for six months. It will mean paid starter jobs for over 50,000 young people who have been left on the dole for over a year by this government.
“But it will be a tough contract – those who can work will be required to take up the jobs on offer or lose their benefits. A life on benefits will simply not be an option.
> Here we go… get tough on the unemployed, no more something for nothing, they’re all lazy bastards, etc… which party does he represent ? It’s so hard to tell the difference nowadays.
“After the global banking crisis and with bank bonuses soaring again this year, it’s fair to pay for our jobs plan with a repeat of Labour’s tax on bank bonuses. We need a recovery for the many, not just a few at the top.
“As a country we simply cannot afford to be wasting the talents of thousands of young people and leaving them stuck on the dole for years on end. It’s bad for them, it’s bad for our economy and it’s bad for taxpayers who have to pay the bill.”
> Well, there we are – if you’re unemployed you can vote for the party with the stick but no carrot, or alternatively for the party with the stick but no carrot.
Six months workfare or six months starter job.
Source – Welfare News Network