Pathologising unemployment

It can’t be true. In the UK unemployment is being redefined as a psychological disorder as part of an effort to cut the welfare bill by $12 billion. And, says an article in the New Scientist (can’t find the link), the UK

    joins nations such as Australia and the US in increasingly requiring claimants to comply with interventions intended to modify emotions, beliefs and personality.

They say “claimants must demonstrate characteristics deemed desirable in workplaces, like confidence and enthusiasm, in return for welfare.”

Failure to do so means you could be

    coerced into “confidence building” programmes, made to join humiliating psychological group activities (like building paper-clip towers), and to take meaningless and unethical psychological tests to determine “strengths”.


    key outcomes specified to companies contracted to provide these interventions are “employability” and “job readiness” – achieving a “mindset that will appeal to employers”, as one course puts it.

Alternatively you could be shunted into workfare, roughly what we call ‘work-for-the-dole’. There is active resistance to workfare in the UK. Also the latest legislative manifestation seems to have split the Labour Party.

The New Scientist article was by Lynne Friedli and Robert Stearn, who, it turns out, have published an academic paper on the subject. The NS article is in part reproduced if you scroll down here. Felicity Callard and Robert Stearn have an article at The Conversation. See also at the Socialist Worker.

As the article at The Conversation says:

    A narrow set of approved psychological and personality traits are widely touted as essential to getting and keeping a job: confidence, optimism, positive, aspirational, motivated, and infinitely flexible.

If you don’t have these characteristics, as measured by the authorities, you are deemed personally and psychologically defective. As such you then need to be modified or punished.

You might feel like this:


But you’ll need to present like this:


9 thoughts on “Pathologising unemployment”

  1. The pathology that needs treating is the pathology of governments that want to blame the victim instead the failure of governments and their economic thinking.
    If you provide the sort of training being talked about here you may help someone get a job instead of someone else. However, unless more work is created or the available work shared more fairly it will make no difference to total unemployment and allow people to blame the unemployed instead of blaming those who are responsible for high unemployment.

    Some of you may recall Is Harrasing the Unemployed Justified? This post provides Australian data as part of seeking answers to the harassment question.
    In addition, there is a logic that says that Australia and the world may be a better place to live if we actually got rid of jobs that are contributing nothing to quality of life and/or nothing more than unnecessary damage to the planet.
    To do this will need a radical change in the way we get the jobs that need done done and how we share both work and resources.

  2. Thanks for a thoughtful comment, John.

    My main objection is to the coercion, the lack of respect and the punishment, as well as the ludicrous and unethical tests and activities that people appear to be subjected to.

  3. The thing I object to is that the jobs just aren’t there . In many cases it would make more sense to accept that it may help everyone if people who really wanted to surf or write poetry were paid to get on with it and leave those who really wanted/needed a job to have a better chance.
    Perhaps it would be smarter to realize that the protestant work ethic is the disease that needs fixing.

  4. Indeed, John.

    The sociologist Zygmunt Bauman has an interesting book Work, consumerism and the new poor. He points out that the value of hard work was preached from the pulpit in the early part of the industrial age. Work was good and more was better. The undeserving poor were sent to the poor house to be punished.

  5. It’s disgusting and takes demonization of the unemployed down to a new low.
    Funnily enough, a secure job with a good employer will build confidence , provide group activities, assess strengths, improve psychological wellbeing and generate enthusiasm.
    Choice #1, massive welfare bill with attendant social problems plus the costs of training for jobs which are non-existent, or
    Choice #2, provide jobs, especially jobs suitable for the less able.

  6. SG: Choice 3:

    Share the available work.
    Start talking about work hogs.
    Levy companies that encourage/insist people be work hogs hard enough to pay the whole unemployment bill. (Levy per hr per week above a target.)
    Calculate work hog levy for people on salary on assumption they work 70 hrs per week.

  7. Great suggestions John. Salaried workers could be required have a work contract with a clear job description specifying the number of hours work. Fair Work Australia to oversee the process and dispute settlements.

  8. Funnily enough, a secure job with a good employer Volunteering will build confidence , provide group activities, assess strengths, improve psychological wellbeing and generate enthusiasm.

    I’ve briefly compared volunteering and employment stats and it’s obvious certain people do both while others do neither.

    My parents, both in their 70s, worked their arses off pre and post retirement.
    I love and respect those ” work hogs ” and wish more would develop a work ethic like that.

    ( ps, there was nothing for nothing in their youth )

  9. Jumpy: I am in my seventies too. When I left school I didn’t know anyone who didn’t get a job and it never occurred to me that i wouldn’t get a job. Did my last exam Friday, started work Monday.
    Sure the jobs were more physical and not as safe compared to now but they were there. Some one who was willing to work long hours was a hero, not a work hog.
    The world has changed. Now there is real shortage of paid work. So the real heros are those that are willing to share the work and/or go out and do something that will create new jobs. Heros too are those that do voluntary work that is not doing someone out of paid work.
    Stop living in the past mate.

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