Monday, February 10, 2014

Why do right-wing people support workfare?

One of the big mysteries in politics is why so many right-wing people support Iain Duncan Smith's Stalinist Workfare schemes, which are designed to force people (under threat of absolute destitution) to give away their labour for free, often to highly profitable foreign corporations.

There are many glaringly obvious complaints that the right-wing thinker should have against these economically illiterate schemes, yet the typical Tory voter tends to enthusiastically support Workfare. First I'll look at the big reasons that right-wing people should be highly suspicious of Iain Duncan Smith's Workfare schemes, then I'll try to consider the reasons that they might over-look these problematic factors in order to convince themselves that Workfare is a good idea, or even to actively propagandise in favour of mandatory unpaid labour schemes.

Right-wing arguments against "Workfare"

State interference 

One of the most constant themes in the right-wing press is the argument against government interference in the lives of the public. The right-wing love to whine on about the encroachment of the state, which they refer to derisively as "the nanny state" (especially when Labour are in power).

The problem is that, unless the individual is hopelessly immune to cognitive dissonance, there is absolutely no way that it is possible to oppose the encroachment of the state into the lives of the public, and simultaneously support mandatory unpaid workfare schemes for the unemployed, in which the citizen is stripped of their labour rights, made to abandon their right to earn the National Minimum Wage and compelled (under threat of absolute destitution) to give away their labour for free for up to six months at a go (which is double the maximum community service sentence that can be imposed on criminals) to whichever business the government sends them to.

The classic example of this kind of state dictatorship over the individual is the case of Cait Reilly, who had used her own initiative to find an unpaid work placement which related to her qualifications, but Iain Duncan Smith and the DWP forced her to give up this skilled voluntary work in order to sweep floors and stack shelves at Poundland (which is not even a British company - it's owned by the US hedge fund Warburg Pincus).

The argument isn't that people should be free to do nothing, it is that the individual should be free to pursue their own path back into paid employment, without the government interfering and forcing them to boost the profits of some foreign corporation instead.

Another classic example of this vile mentality is the case of the 60 year old army veteran Stephen Taylor, who had his social security payments stopped for the "crime" of selling poppies for a couple of hours a day in the weeks before Remembrance Sunday. even though he had been actively looking work during that time too. Iain Duncan Smith's DWP clearly believe that the government has the right to dictate and micromanage precisely what people can do with their time.

If you support Workfare and believe that the state has a right to dictate exactly what people like Cait Reilly and Stephen Taylor do with their time, you're clearly a fan of "the nanny state" after all.


An essential part of right-wing politics is the protection of property. Right-wing people really dislike the idea of the state coming along and taking people's property, in fact, some go as far as justifying their tax avoidance/evasion activities with the argument that "taxation is theft".

It seems a bit strange then for the same people to then support Workfare schemes in which the state confiscates people's labour. It's pretty contradictory to support the idea that income taxes on the product of the individual's labour should be cut, or even abolished, yet support schemes which confiscate the entire value of the individual's labour.

If you support Workfare, you support the idea that the state has a right to go around confiscating things that belong to the individual.


One particularly popular argument against Workfare is that we have all paid for our social security benefits through our National Insurance contributions. If the government then says that we must work 30 hours a week at Poundland in order to receive the unemployment benefits we've already paid for, this is clearly making us pay twice for something. Essentially the government is stealing our National Insurance contributions.

If you support Workfare, then you support the state when it steals the National Insurance contributions of those it forces onto mandatory unpaid Workfare schemes.

A waste of taxpayer's money

Right-wing people are often heard complaining about how taxpayers' money is being wasted on things like "non-jobs". This is actually a fair point, I'm pretty left-wing but I don't like to see taxpayers' money wasted on pointless unproductive job creation schemes either.

The problem for the right-wing supporter of Workfare is that Iain Duncan Smith's "welfare reforms" have resulted in the creation of some of the most ludicrously pointless and inefficient taxpayer funded "non-jobs" in history. Just because these Work Programme jobs exist in the private sector, doesn't mean that they're not taxpayer funded "non-jobs". These jobs are totally reliant upon taxpayer handouts and they are ludicrously unproductive (in the first year of the Work Programme every single one of the 18 Work Programme contractors failed to meet their minimum target of getting just 5% of their clients into work!).

The Work Programme ties in with Iain Duncan Smith's Stalinist Workfare schemes because Work Programme contractors get lucrative fees from the taxpayer every time they force one of their clients onto a mandatory unpaid Workfare scheme. The Work Programme provider still gets this handout from the taxpayer even if they take on the unpaid worker to work in their own office, doing the admin involved in forcing more and more people into unpaid labour schemes for up to six months at a time in return for piles of taxpayers' cash!

If you support Workfare then you support the creation of thousands of taxpayer funded "non-jobs".

Market subsidies
Right-wing people often complain about state subsidisation. The argument against subsidisation is an essential part of the justification narratives for the sell-off of state infrastructure that has been happening since 1979. "Why" the right wing-people asked "should the taxpayer subsidise the coal mines / the steel industry / the automotive industry / the shipbuilding industry?"

Well now that all of these industries have been deliberately annihilated, the government subsidies keep on flowing. The privatised rail industry hoovers up three times as much in subsidies as the entire network cost to run in the last year of British Rail, the banks received the largest subsidies in economic history to save them from the consequences of their own reckless gambling and Workfare is yet another form of government subsidisation, because the government is using taxpayers' money to provide a source of free labour to favoured businesses.

The Workfare receiving businesses benefit from a supply of free labour, whilst the taxpayer picks up the entire cost of paying the subsistence benefits paid to the Workfare victims (and paying the placement fees paid out to the Work Programme providers that forced them onto these schemes - see above). The Workfare using companies (many of them foreign owned) get a supply of completely free labour and the taxpayer pays for it.

If you support Workfare then you support the distribution of state subsidies to favoured corporations.

Market rigging

Right-wing people often go on about the "free market" but Workfare is clearly nothing like a free market policy because it creates obvious unfair market advantages for companies that are the beneficiaries of these free labour schemes. Right-wing people often like to think that they are on the side of small businesses too.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate how Workfare goes against these views is through the use of an example.

Let's say that you own a small business that employs a number of low-skilled workers (let's say a garden centre or a furniture shop). You like the people who you employ and are disinclined to sack them and replace them with free labour paid for at the taxpayers' expense because over the years you've come to know their wives and children and you'd have to feel pretty guilty for thrusting them into destitution to make yourself a few extra quid. However a rival local business has no such qualms about sacking their staff and taking advantage of Workfare. This would put your business at a large cost disadvantage since you pay your workers wages and the associated employment taxes whilst your rival doesn't.

Workfare rigs the market in favour of those businesses that take advantage of it, and against those that believe in actually paying their staff. The problem is especially bad if the rival business is a large corporation that also has other market advantages such as economies of scale, or tax-dodging activities.

If you support Workfare you do not believe in free markets and fair competition and you are not on the side of small local businesses.

Right wing people often tend to go on about "shirkers" a lot. What they don't seem to realise is that the "shirkers" are not the unemployed people when it comes to Workfare, it is the profitable corporations that take advantage of these schemes to get a free supply of labour and shirk their responsibility to pay the National Minimum Wage and the National Insurance contributions of their workers, leaving the taxpayer to pick up the tab for them.

You may think that this has little effect on you (other than the giveaway of taxpayers' money to fund these schemes of course), but you'd be wrong. Allowing corporations to shirk their responsibilities to pay their workers a wage means that their workers have significantly less money in their pockets, and therefore have less money to spend in the local economy.

Recent labour market statistics have shown that there are some 148,000 people on mandatory unpaid Workfare schemes. Imagine how much more money would be spent in the economy if these 148,000 people had jobs that paid them a wage, rather than the pitiful subsistence income they receive for doing Workfare. That difference has essentially been stolen from the "real economy" by the "shirkers" who refuse to pay wages to their workers.

If you support Workfare you support "shirkers" that dodge paying wages to their staff in order to boost their own profits, robbing the local economy and relying on taxpayer handouts in the process.

Reasons the right-wing still support "Workfare"
  • Tory tribalism: Some people are political tribalists who will support their favoured political party no matter what kind of lunatic policies they come up with.
  • Gullibility:  Some people support Iain Duncan Smith's Stalinist schemes because they are gullible enough to believe his rhetoric that these schemes have been designed to "help" unemployed people back into work, even though the evidence (and common sense) tells us that working some 30 hours a week (for no pay) seriously hinders people's ability to search for proper paid employment. 
  • Mindless vindictiveness: Some right wing people support these schemes because they are mindlessly vindictive. They believe the hopelessly misleading Tory propaganda narratives that there are plenty of jobs, therefore unemployed people are lazy shirkers who need to be punished. 
  • Economic illiteracy: A lot of people on either side of the political spectrum are economically illiterate. This means that they are unable to see the negative economic consequences of these schemes, and instead buy into the simplistic narrative that people without jobs should be made to "do something".
  • Illusions of superiority:  A lot of pro-Workfare people seem to be suffering the delusion that they are somehow immune from these schemes. The "I've always had a job" so "I'm alright Jack" brigade seem to imagine that they are so great that they could never face the prospect of unemployment. Nobody is indispensable, and many people who have always worked find themselves coping with unemployment for the first time when they are in their late 50s or 60s. If these Workfare schemes continue to spread as rapidly as they have been, then perhaps these "I'm alright Jack" Workfare supporters might live to seriously regret it a couple of decades down the line. 
  • Possible self-interest: It is always possible that the pro-Workfare propagandist has vested interests in Workfare. Perhaps their company takes advantage of taxpayer funded free labour schemes? Perhaps they realise that pumping a huge supply of free labour into the labour market drives down the cost of labour, meaning there is less pressure on them to raise the wages of their employees? Perhaps they own shares in companies that take advantage of Workfare free labour schemes in order to boost their profits?
  • DoubleThink: Probably the single most important reason that so many right-wing people openly support these Stalinist Workfare schemes is that they are immune to cognitive dissonance. To many of us the holding of two mutually contradictory ideas causes bouts of cognitive dissonance, yet people who consider themselves right-wing and support Workfare are quite clearly capable of believing in mutually contradictory things (such as "the nanny state is bad" and "the state should strip people of their autonomy and force them to work wherever the state thinks best").

I am not a right-wing person, so it has been quite a challenge to try to see things from a right-wing perspective. I believe that I have shown that Iain Duncan Smith's Stalinist Workfare schemes are totally incompatible with a lot of right-wing political and economic dogma. I've also outlined some of the reasons I believe that right-wing people allow themselves to be fooled into believing Workfare to be a good thing, when it clashes so badly with so much right-wing ideology.

Whatever your political persuasion, I hope you recognise these schemes for the authoritarian, ineffective and economically illiterate nonsense that they so clearly are.

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