Ed Balls' Jobs Plan won't work
Ed Balls is calling for "the Right to Work", voa a new guarantee to ensure that anyone unemployed for more than 18 months is given a job or work placement – an extension of Labour’s successful Future Jobs Fund and Young Persons Guarantee. This will mean creating 200,000 jobs and work placements for people out of work for over 18 months.
He's right to consider the question of how we could make sure that anyone who wants one can get a job, but this is the wrong answer, for the following reasons:
1. His sums don't add up.
It cost £1 billion to create 80,000 jobs through the Future Jobs Fund. It is not possible to create two and a half times as many paid jobs for a quarter of the cost. Unless...
2. His "Right to Work" doesn't mean the right to paid work.
The reference to "work placements" means that some of these jobs might be unpaid work experience placements. Giving people the "right" to work for free is a Tory policy, undermines the minimum wage, and doesn't help people into sustainable employment.
3. These jobs won't reach the people who need them most.
This was one of the lessons from the Future Jobs Fund. The Future Jobs Fund was meant to create jobs for people who couldn't find anything else. But in fact, the kind of "Big Society" jobs, usually involving opportunities for training and professional development and often paid at the Living Wage, were better than many of the other jobs on offer to young, unemployed people. So nearly all of them went to graduates and people who had experience of working in the past, rather than people who had never had a job.
In addition, these will have to be very specific sorts of jobs. For example, they will have to be accessible to ex-offenders who couldn't pass a criminal records bureau check. And they would have to be flexible enough for people who have mental health problems and who are able to work on some days, but not on others. Developing jobs which long term unemployed people can do takes more time, effort and resources then Balls has allowed for.
4. He wants to force people to take these jobs, but that won't work.
In true New Labour style, Balls wants to combine "the right to work" with "the responsibility to work", where no one is out of work for more than 18 months. This tough talk may sound appealing, but the consequences are potentially very troubling. For example, thousands of sick and disabled people are currently appealing against decisions by private contractor Atos healthcare that they are "fit for work". Compelling people who are suffering from cancer, or who have severe mental health problems, into these jobs is cruel and counter-productive - they won't be able to cope, it will make them more ill, and it will create extra problems for the employer.
This policy shows the strengths and limitations of Ed Balls. He is definitely asking the right questions, and coming up with new ideas about how government can help people.
But in this case, the weaknesses of the policy come from the fact that it isn't rooted in the reality of people's lives. The attempt to coerce people will be counter-productive, and it takes more resources than Balls realises to guarantee the right to work.