Because a great part of the people ... will not serve unless they may receive excessive wages, and some rather willing to beg in idleness, than by labor to get their living; we, considering ... have upon deliberation and treaty with the prelates and the nobles, and learned men assisting us, of their mutual counsel ordained ... (1)
This is not the preamble to National's freshly announced welfare policy, but it might as well be. It is, infact, the Ordinance of Labourers passed into English Law in 1349, to compel the truculent peasantry to do their divinely ordained duty and labour for the benefit of their lords. Such as it was under the reign of Edward III of England in the 14th century. So, it seems, it will be in the reign of John I of New Zealand.
With truly immaculate comic timing, National have released details of their welfare policy at the same time as Jeremy Seabrook penned a glum commentary (2) in the Guardian. He describes how conservative parties seem to echo complaints from the medieval period onwards about how the peasants are too pampered and soft and unwilling to work, and - if they can be cajoled to work at all - will only do so for unreasonable wages. This morning, I read his article and wrote a breid entry on this blog. A few minutes later, on Morning Report, I heard that National were announcing policy that might have derived from the 14th century.
(While I can't confirm that National's policy was composed by a committee of prelates, nobles and 'learned men,' I suspect the composition of the ruling class hasn't changed greatly in 700 hundred years.)
National's policy is aimed at targeting the long term unemployed and (you can almost hear the pantomime hisses from stage right) single mothers:
And this is from NICE National, remember. It begs the question, what will they be like when they don't feel the need to whisper sweet nothings in our ears any more?
National leader John Key said today a government formed by him would have "an unrelenting focus" on getting beneficiaries into work.
Announcing core elements of National's welfare policy, he pledged there would be no cuts to benefits and National would not introduce a work-for-the-dole or a community wage scheme.
"Instead we will be going one better and will focus on long-term unemployed by requiring them to get paid work and get off the benefit," he said.
"Within 12 months of taking office, National will require everyone who has been on the dole for more than a year to re-apply for their benefit and undergo a comprehensive work assessment."
Under the benefit policy, solo parents will have to seek part-time work once their youngest child is six. (3)
Seabrook traces this tendency from the 1300s to the present, not only citing the various acts and statutes by which the rich and powerful have used their privilege to calumnate the poor and powerless, but identifying the cause of this - apparently incurable tendency to bemoan the bloodyminded laziness of the serfs and proles:
This debate continues to deny the agency of economic, technological and social determinants in producing able-bodied poor, idlers and spongers, welfare cheats, the drug destroyed and the outcast; but sees the individual as responsible for his or her particular form of dereliction. That the cyclical expansion and contraction of the economy influence levels of poverty or worklessness is played down: whenever there is an economic "downturn", the first reaction is to turn vengefully upon its victims. (3)
When times are good, the credit belongs to the Kking, the priesthood, politicians and captains of industry. When things turn rotten, it is due to the scurrilous serfs and pushy proles demanding more than was due to them. And the idea that the mechanics of industrialised society might actually produce the perenial hobgoblin of the 'idle poor' can not of course, be entertained. Paupers are paupers because they they are incurably, wickedly indolent. The rich and powerful are rich and powerful because they are honest, hardworking and willing to seize every opportunity.
That they usually have benefited from some massive social advantage, and the opportunities seized are generally only available to the few blessed with the afore-said massive social advantage, is once again, inadmissable. We just don't say such things in polite society.
SO the 'long term unemployed' must be put to work. Nevermind that they are, by and large, already looking for work. Never mind that for many the issue isn't lack of motivation, or even lack of jobs, but lack of essentials such as adequate child care. Heaven forbid, that some luckless ingle mother fulfill National's latest stricture by taking up a job that means her child becomes a latchkey kid - appart from the risks to the child, suddenly the hapless mother is transformed intot hat other rightwing hobgoblin, the Neglectful Mother, source of almost all social ills from violence, drug use and teenage pregnancy.
When that happens, of course, it will be considered extremely impolite to mention that the mother was forced to take up a job because of National's 'Tough-on-poverty, tough-on-those-too-feckless-and-stupid-to-be-in-poverty' rhetoric.
(One has to wonder how National can square the circle of being pro-family and at the same time anti-family, by threatening families - often the most vulnerable - with loss of benefits if they don't get out there and accept a minimum wage job at the chicken disembowelling factory, even though the recipient is a pharmacist).
And also, it will be very, very impolite to mention that for the tiny minority of genuinely dishonest spongers, the truly workshy and feckless, slashing benefits will make little difference. They will find away around it - the only people who will be affected will be those trying to get back into the workforce, who will end up being pushed into whatever jobs are available.
1 - From the Ordinance of Labourers 1349. (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/seth/ordinance-labourers.html)
2 - 'The Poor: A Future Foretold' by Jeremy Seabrook, published in The Guardian, 10th of August, 2008. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/aug/10/labour.socialcare)
3 - "National's welfare policy a return to the 90s says Govt," unattributed NZPA article, published in The National Business Review, 11th of AUgust, 2008. (http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/nationals-welfare-policy-a-return-90s-says-govt-33891)
4 - Seabrook, op. cit.