Job ‘Support’ Programmes and Enforced Poverty

In many nations, unemployed people who want to go on government benefits need to agree to do something in exchange. They need to look for work or attend a job support programme or provide some sort of indicator that they aren’t shiftless sluggards bent on exploiting government benefits and living off the fat of the land. The same goes for other benefits like food stamps, disability allowance, medical benefits; while people think of social programmes and welfare as ‘free,’ they are definitely not free for beneficiaries, who need to work to obtain them.

And the way these programmes are structured is often specifically designed to enforce poverty and to create a situation where people are trapped with no way to win. Very strict terms and conditions are established for beneficiaries, who lose benefits access if they don’t abide by them. This holds true even if the terms don’t make sense, even if a social worker agrees they don’t make sense, because the system has no room for logic. It is in fact designed in a highly illogical way which often appears to be deliberately structured to maintain a subordinate status for people on benefits.

They are constantly reminded that they are allowed to survive only through the kindness of the government and the taxpayers, who are doing them a great service they should be thankful for because they’re being helped. And they’re told they must show appreciation for that help by complying perfectly with the rules. If you are naughty, if you do not abide by the rules, you get cut off, because you’re clearly not grateful enough for everything the government has to offer you. Go sit in the corner and feel bad, because clearly you have nothing to contribute to society.

I’m currently watching a friend go through a job support programme which maintains truly byzantine levels of bureaucracy which seem designed to actively harm participants rather than supporting them on job hunts. People are expected to attend ‘classes’ where they learn things related to seeking work, even though many of them already know those things full well. The classes are randomly rescheduled or moved, and the recipients are treated like the ones making the mistake when they show up at the wrong place, at the wrong time, in a state of utter confusion and mystification.

Classes are largely useless, filled with makework exercises designed not to provide people with skills or support, but to enforce obedience. Attendees of the programme are supposed to develop thankfulness and compliance with these exercises, not independence and skills; the goal is a reminder of your place in the world, that if you want benefits, you will be forced to sit in a beige room filling in bubbles for three hours, being told that it’s important for career development. If you declare this is clearly not the case and you would like to do something else, you’ll be told you are not cooperating and shouldn’t get benefits anymore.

The same programmes require people to apply for jobs as part of the process even if they are clearly not qualified and won’t be considered, or if a job won’t actually meet the needs of an applicant. Someone who sits down and determines that a set number of hours at a given wage is necessary to live might not be interested in applying for a low-wage, ten hour a week job that will distract from the search for a more useful one. Yet, they need to apply and show proof that they applied and go through the process.

This is a waste of the time of participants, at the same time it’s a reminder that they must obey to continue accessing benefits. It’s also a waste of time for employers, who rightly grow to distrust applications from people referred by job programmes. Because employers have a hard time telling if someone genuinely wants a job and intends to follow through on the application, or is fulfilling a requirement. This makes employers less interested in calling people in for interviews and reviewing their applications seriously, when there’s no way to tell if a job candidate is a candidate, or a person filling in boxes and crossing Ts in order to fulfill the terms of a benefit programme.

These are not systems that actually help people who need assistance and have a genuine desire to get back to work. These are systems that effectively enforce poverty. When you’re required to apply for jobs you aren’t suited for, you’re effectively being told you should be thankful for any job you can possibly scrounge up. And you’re also told that you should live in poverty rather than pursuing better and more appropriate opportunities. You should get off the dole and make something of yourself.

Poverty, as many people have pointed out, is expensive. Taking a job as a stopgap often results in working that job far longer than expected because it’s so exhausting. You’re constantly having to juggle your finances and budget your time and figure out how to make things work. You lose the time you need to apply for other jobs that might pay better and have more hours, that might allow you to tackle issues like debt or moving to a safer and more pleasant house. You certainly don’t have time to apply for higher education, to get a chance at a degree you can use to get ahead.

You get caught on a poverty treadmill you can’t escape because all your options are closed, and the government claims you ‘benefited’ from the programme you were forced to go through. It adds you to a list of successful statistics because the bottom line isn’t about whether your situation was improved, but whether you got a job, any job at all, so the government could strike you off the rolls.