The combined efforts of both National and Labour governments’ punitive policies towards the unemployed seems to have removed over 100,000 people from rightful access to an unemployment benefit.
Until the mid-2000s there was a broad correlation between the number officially counted as unemployed through the Household Labour Force Survey (HLFS) and the number getting an unemployment benefit at the same time even though they were being measured in different ways.
In fact, the number on benefits exceeded the number as recorded by the HLFS by an average of about 30,000 in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The economic recovery that had set in by that time saw both numbers drop significantly.
However, around the mid 2000s the Labour government introduced a severe case management regime that seemed designed to prevent people accessing their entitlements rather than encouraging them to. The numbers on the unemployment benefit began to fall dramatically faster than the HLFS unemployment number until the gap hit 50,000 in 2008.
The international crisis and recession of 2008-10 sent the HLFS unemployment numbers soaring but the new National government’s even more punitive regime managed to keep the numbers on a benefit from increasing anywhere near as fast. The number of those on average receiving a benefit compared to the number of unemployed in the household survey is now about 130,000 fewer than it was in the late 1990s.
The missing 130,000 are the reason why so many social agencies are being inundated for help for food, clothing, shelter despite the so-called recovery in the economy over the last year.
There was also no significant increase in other working age benefits like sickness, invalid or sole parent benefits to account for the missing number of those receiving the unemployment benefit.
To make matters worse the HLFS is actually a very narrow measure of unemployment. To be counted you have to be physically able and ready for work, not be enrolled in a education course, and to have actively sought work in the last 4 weeks other than looking in a newspaper. You are also disqualified if you have worked one hour in the survey week – even if unpaid in your family dairy.
The broader measure of “jobless” which is also collected in the HLFS is actually a more useful figure. This number includes those actively seeking work but unable to start immediately, those available and only seeking work through newspaper advertisements or not actively seeking work for some other reason, and those discouraged from looking for work at all.
Graph of the September 2013 HLFS
Using this number we find that those on benefits as a percentage of the broader jobless category went from around 70% in the late 1990s to less than 20% today. There is no scientific explanation for this to happen except for the policies of the government making it happen. But there is a price that is paid – and it is one of human misery on a wide scale.
These numbers need to be given a human face. The unemployed are not just numbers. They are working people trying to survive in an unjust capitalist system that is happy to use us when the capitalists need us but want to discard us when they don’t and not even provide the minimal emergency support we are legally entitled to.
The demonising of the unemployed as bludgers is a lie and has always been a lie. Welfare fraud is minuscule compared to tax fraud by the rich but prosecuted much more vigorously. There has been a massive denial of entitlements to the unemployed over then last decade that is probably worth billions of dollars. The tax cuts for the rich have been paid for by denying entitlements to the poorest and most vulnerable is theft from working people of about a billion dollars a year. It is time to get angry.
NB: The numbers used in this article compare the number of unemployed, jobless and beneficiaries are taken from the Department of Statistics available on their Infoshare website. I use annual figures for the June year to remove seasonal or other factors. The one figure not available was the 2013 number for beneficiaries which I have done an estimate for.