Louise Coupland asks if employment is so beneficial, why do many working-age people in Scotland lack a job?
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne MP has continually reiterated his commitment to efficiency and fairness in his latest round of spending cuts announced yesterday, but concerns still remain about his plans for supporting people into work.
There is a regrettable and increasing acceptance of the myths around high unemployment levels being caused by ‘benefit scroungers’. These have often been fuelled by both the media and the Government’s outspoken obligations to ensure no family receives more on benefits than the average family in work through the Household Benefit Cap to discourage a ‘culture of worklessness’.
There is, however, no evidence to support the concept of a ‘culture of worklessness,’ with research actually highlighting a dedication to the value of work and a preference to being in jobs rather than on benefits. Furthermore, the instances of complete worklessness in the same family, often proffered as a rising phenomenon, are actually very rare.
The Scottish Public Health Observatory’s latest report ‘The Chance to Work in Scotland’ dispels many of the current prejudices and explores contributing theories of why we have unemployment including:
· flaws in the design of the benefit system
· ‘supply-side’ (people who are looking for work) problems
· personal circumstances
· the lack of labour market flexibility
· ‘demand side’ (supplier of jobs) deficiencies
The briefing paper also emphasises the links between health and work, recognising employment as a key social determinant of health, with inequalities resulting in substantial levels of working age ill health and disability.
The fiercest message to come from the report is the poor odds for achieving employment in Scotland, with the unemployed to vacancy ratio at a high of 310 people per 100 vacancies in 2011(Sources: Scottish Employer Skills Surveys and UK Employers Skills
Survey; claimant counts, January–December mean). Policymakers have argued that worklessness is not primarily caused by the lack of employment opportunities yet; even in 2008, before the recession, the number of jobs did not exceed the number of jobseekers in Scotland. Furthermore the lack of recent work experience, formal qualifications and personal circumstances continue to hinder the prospects of jobseekers.
The report is easy to read, featuring a range of components explaining unemployment backed with relevant evidence. It clearly underlines that if policymakers believe paid employment to be paramount in improving health and reducing poverty they will need to be prepared to ensure that everyone has a chance to work.