The Tories: Creating ‘Spongers’ since 1979

By McMeg

Gettin handouts can be so frustratin
Get in line son there’s five million waitin’
The Proclaimers, Cap in Hand

Dole queue under the Tories.

As a central part of actualising Dave Cameron’s glorious vision of The Big Society, the Con-Dem coalition has promised to sweep away the “cycle of dependency” that afflicts Britain’s “pockets of worklessness”. Announcing his new welfare strategy last week, Iain Duncan Smith decried the fact that a majority of benefit claimants have been claiming for nine of the past ten years, that in many areas some families have not worked in three generations and that 1 in 6 children in the UK are growing up in a household in which no one is working.

And you know what? Sitting in the midst of the largest of these “pockets of worklessness” – a barren tundra called Scotland – I agree with him. It is an absolute disgrace that across our land there are families in which three generations have never worked. It is disgusting not just because of the economic waste, but because of the inevitable social problems that arise from mass unemployment; a community in which there are ‘spongers’ will soon spawn an according number of ‘alchies’ and ‘junkies’. All of this amounts to a tragedy for our nation. But it is a tragedy that the Tories, for all their talk, have absolutely no intention of ending.

This may seem a curious assertion to make given that the Tories have only been in power for a few months. However, the following article will go on to show why the Tories were responsible for creating the very ‘underclass’ that they decry. Furthermore, I will also show how this group of hypocrites ideologically depend on the existence of long-term unemployment and that they are the least likely group of people to get the unemployed back into work. In short, this article will show why the Tories knowingly create the very ‘spongers’ that they spend so much time demonising.

It is interesting that Mr Duncan Smith cities the problem of generations having not worked. By doing so he is tracing the problem back to its very origins in the mass unemployment of the ‘Eighties. Very often we are told that this was because the industries that resided in Scotland were not profitable, or because of changes in the global economy. Neither is an acceptable excuse.
Among the many reasons why the Conservatives are reviled in Scotland is because they are commonly, and rightly, seen as having deliberately dismantled profitable industries. In the year it was closed, the Ravenscraig steel plant in Motherwell returned a profit of £19 million. This profit would have been even higher had motor factories at Bathgate and Linwood (see if any songs spring to mind), some of the plant’s biggest customers, not been closed beforehand. Mines closed in Midlothian, Ayrshire and Fife also remained profitable.


In terms of the global economy, it is true that cheap-labour and the opening up of Eastern markets lead to de-industrialisation across most of the Western world. But in other countries the process was slower and more managed. Workers had time to seek out new employment and often had time to acquire skills in other industries. Neither was the process as absolute; anyone travelling across France or Germany will not struggle to spot large factories. In Scotland, these have mostly been abandoned or converted into shopping centres.

Another reason why this process was especially devastating in Scotland was because unlike most other nations we do not exercise political control over our economic affairs. This meant that the Tory Government in London was able to use newly discovered Scottish oil to accumulate a significant trade surplus. This forced up the value of the Pound. For the service sector dominated South this allowed imports to be bought more cheaply. But in export driven Scotland (and some other parts of the UK) the impact on manufacturing was disastrous; Scottish goods were sold in Pounds, if the Pound was more expensive the goods were more expensive. Oil should have been a revelation for Scotland, something to make us more prosperous than any other European country, but it was used in such a way that some Scottish businesses soon required state subsidies. When these subsidies were withdrawn at the behest of Conservative free market dogma, thousands were thrown out of work. Many never found work again, hence our current problem.

Conservatives often retort that the reason Scotland became an industrial wasteland was because of trade union militancy stifling its competitiveness. This mantra has become a popular lie. But in it we can see the reason for the closure of profitable industries in such a savage way: to break the trade union movement. This fact is well-known by Scots. What is less well known is that there is another reason; that Conservative ideology itself “institutionalises idleness by necessitating a level of unemployment in the economy. In other words, so long as there is a Tory Government, in fact so long as there is capitalism, there will always be unemployed people.

Tories Believe in Unemployment

Under capitalism the wage you earn is not determined by the importance of the job you do, the number of qualifications you have, or the quality of work you do. Contrary to myth the system is in no way meritocratic. If it was, would a nurse earn in a year what a pish Old Firm footballer earns in a week? Instead your wage is determined by the price mechanism; the more the demand and the less the supply then the greater the price. Conversely, if the demand is greater than the supply then wages go down.

Milton Friedman - Cunt.

For anyone trying to force down wages the equitation is pure simple; ensure there are mair folk are lookin fir joabs than there are joabs. Dae that and yir boss can pay whit they like. The theory is articulated in less eloquent terms by the Godfather of neo-liberal thinking, Milton Friedman, in his theory of a Non Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment. According to this theory, there must be a “natural” level of unemployment in an economy to prevent inflation – i.e. peoples’ wages going up ‘cause they are in a union.

It is no secret that this Government, as well as all British Governments subsequent to 1979, subscribes to Friedman’s thinking. Meaning that for all their rhetoric, every mainstream politician you have ever heard talk about tackling unemployment in fact has no desire to eradicate it. It is not just because Tory economic philosophy is ineffectual that unemployment soars under a Tory Government, it is because the party is ideologically committed to leaving a layer of the population out of work and thus dependant on benefits.

I Work, They Don’t: It’s Not Fair

Despite being ideologically wed to the idea of creating unemployment, the Tories do very well out of anti-unemployed sentiment. It’s almost a double win for them. The idea that the poor can be made to work by withdrawing their benefits is a popular one. It is also one that must be challenged. Next time you hear someone attack ‘spongers’ ask who they think created these ‘spongers’. Who incapacitated these members of the work force? Because when economic policy is not geared to full employment, but to sustaining “natural unemployment” then some people are always going to be left without a job.

And what happens to people? Often they are lead into a spire of social problems that further exclude them from the workforce. Almost half of the incapacity benefit claimants in Glasgow have mental health problems (page 13). While it is no accident that Scotland has greater unemployment than the rest of the UK it also has a more acute drug problem. It is also no accident that the heroin boom in Scotland took place once the mass redundancies of the Thatcher era took hold. Had this process been managed, had time been given to retrain people, the problem may have been less acute. But instead the Tories carried out ‘shock therapy’ tearing apart peoples’ lives an identity that allowed social problems to flourish. A vicious cycle has emerged; social problems emerged in some communities after Tory enforced unemployment, but today social problems keep many from working. Idiotic drug laws combined with inhumane economic doctrines have laid waste to our Scotland and one more hit of Tory rule is not going to get us clean.

An Alternative

A lot of people are not so keen on the idea of socialism because they believe that people should have to work for what they get. They fear that somehow the humane benefits system we would bring in would mean that some people would never work. This is not true at all. Most unemployed people want to work, but when there are nine jobseekers to every job in Scotland then getting a job is simply not an option for many.

The question then is simple: should an economic system deliberately keep a certain number of people unemployed for the benefit of business, or provide a socially useful work for all members of the population? Deliberately keeping people on benefits in order to lower wages and working conditions is essential to capitalism. Anyone who dislikes the idea of there being unemployed people cannot support that economic system. If, on the other hand, you think everyone should have the right and opportunity to have a job and that it is the duty of a Government to provide full employment then socialism is the only idea that can provide this.


  1. Jack says:

    Thought this was a really good article. I particularly liked the penultimate section about how the Tories play divide and rule between the employed and unemployed working class.

    The only thing I think though is that we shouldn’t get completely fixated on the idea of work. In the short term, the immediate demand that most people would like met (including me, unemployed since I was made redundant in January) is for more jobs. But I think the key phrase in your piece is socially useful work. I think something we don’t talk about enough is that we would reduce the working week, giving people more free time and forcing employers to take on more people. Those that are working now work inhumanly hard, for ridiculously long hours.

    It’s a clear example of how the technology and other forces available to society are actually more advanced than our socio-economic model. There’s no reason why we couldn’t use the automation, electronics, nanotechnology etc. that’s being developed to have a society where we all work much less, and engage in freely chosen activity like political activism or gardening or making music or making things with our hands. But we’re stopped because we’re forced to exchange our labour for survival.

    I know this line of chat might seem a bit utopian and not politically useful in the face of the cuts, but along side a strategy for fighting the cuts I think we should have a long term goal, and practical steps we can take to achieve it just now, that we are trying to extend the realm of freedom, that is the part of your life where you freely choose what it is you’re doing with yourself rather than being forced to work for someone else.

    I recommend:

  2. Jack says:

    P.S., maybe Andy McPake should make his own blog account now, we’ve heard a fair bit off him! ;)

  3. Jim Monaghan says:

    Excellent article Sarah, an argument that hasnt been made clearly and often enough in recent years. In the SSP’s 2003 manifesto there is a clear costed policy of reducing hours to create jobs in the public sector, paid for by scrapping Scottish Enterprise along the lines of what Jack was suggesting.

  4. But will it be in Labours manifesto Jim?

  5. Jim Monaghan says:

    Doubt, it fainnanahalba. Apologies, I misread it as being an article by sarah, should have said excellent article Andrew.

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