When is a scrounger not a scrounger?
by Claudia Wood
Last week I blogged that in the current economic climate, today's 'striver' can often be tomorrow's 'scrounger'. Because the fact is, many of those we describe as working poor are often in temporary or insecure employment, in industries such as hospitality and retail, which are vulnerable to seasonal trends.
It means many families are just a triple dip away from finding themselves on the wrong side of the Chinese Wall that the government has erected between the two social groups - the hard working tax payer and the feckless benefit dependent. This only serves to demonstrate just how nonsensical the distinction has become.
Originally, the term 'scrounger' was used in government narratives to describe the problems of long term unemployment, 'a benefits lifestyle' and a tendency to game the system in order to avoid work. Caricatured as it was, everyone was clear that it described a culture more than an economic status.
But as the term has become thrown around more liberally, it is increasingly used interchangeably with 'unemployed'. In last week's Autumn Statement, we saw how unemployment benefits rising at rates below inflation was badged as part of the agenda to help 'strivers' (aka the employed), as if none of those strivers had ever faced a temporary spell out of work.
And given 'scrounger' is now simply a proxy for 'unemployed', this is likely to ebb and flow month by month. Indeed, yesterday we discovered that 40,000 scroungers joined the ranks of the strivers as employment rose. A drop in the numbers of self-employed was offset by an increased number of full time employed, leading to an overall surplus of 40,000 more in work. Happy days.
And yet not is all as it seems. 19,000 of that 40,000 surplus are actually in 'government supported employment and training programmes' – a figure which has increased by 86% since last year. This category covers anyone in work experience or work related training – in other words, the unemployed carrying out work experience as part of the Work Programme. Within these figures are those participating in the controversial mandatory work experience, reserved only for those deemed to be the worst type of scrounger, whose benefits are conditional on them working in an unpaid job.
So these scroungers – targeted by the latest round of benefits cuts – are the same ones boosting the quarterly employment statistics. It's a sleight of hand which makes the previous strategy to reduce unemployment statistics – pushing people onto Incapacity Benefit – seem amateurish.
But again, it serves to show that the distinction between 'scrounger' and 'striver' is becoming ever more ridiculous. This group – counted as in work when they are claiming unemployment benefits – are strivers on paper, but remain scroungers in common parlance.