Why are the two main parties so keen to force the long-term unemployed and sick into work?
I can't believe it's from a new-found concern for the taxpayer. If someone moves from unemployment or incapacity benefit into low-paid work, the taxpayer saves on IB and JSA, but pays out working tax credits instead, so the saving is small. A quick glance at the Tax Benefit Model Tables suggests that moving someone from unemployment to full-time minimum wage work saves the taxpayer around £200 per person per week, even including the taxes they pay. This means that even if we could get every one of the 172,000 who have been unemployed (pdf) for over two years into full-time work, we'd save just £1.8bn. That's less than 3 pence for every £10 of government spending.
I suspect there might be 6 other reasons for the concern:
1. A belief that the unemployed are leeching off the rest of us, that we're being taken for mugs. Personally, though, I don't feel this. I get more annoyed that slovenly pen-pushing civil servants, idle jobsworth coppers, posturing politicians and superfluous bureaucrats are getting big money from the taxpayer.
2. Paternalism. All studies (pdf) show that the unemployed, on average, are significantly unhappier than those in work. So perhaps forcing people to work might be good for them eventually.
But is this really true? Why don't some of the the unemployed recognise that work is in their own interest? And if the average unemployed person is unhappy, why add to his misery by pandering to the prejudice that the unemployed are workshy?
3. A desire to increase the supply of labour and so raise profitability.
Again, I'm not sure. An unskilled and lowly motivated worker is only marginally profitable. And the minimum wage limits the extent to which an increased supply of workers will bid down capitalists' costs.
4. A protestant belief that work is our moral duty.
5. A desire to reduce immigration. If indigenous people find work, we'll have less need for those east Europeans.
6. A desire to look tough. And the easiest target for politicians wanting to look macho is the weakest and most vulnerable.
My hunch is that this last reason is the most powerful.