In the UK, cutting welfare benefits has been used as a tool by the government in recent years to “encourage hundreds of thousands of people into work”. The idea is that reducing state-funded welfare is supposed to drive up wages and therefore, presumably, make employment a more appealing prospect for people out of work. Inherent within this argument, or at least implied by this argument, is the notion that unemployed people in the UK don’t really want to work in the first place.
So what then of 16-24 year olds in Scotland?
I’m currently analysing survey data gathered from 909 young josbeekers based in Scotland. To understand the general nature of each respondent’s job search I included some contextual questions. For example, I asked if they were looking for a job that was a “career option”, which elicited the following response from 2 of the demographic subgroups:
Unemployed respondents: 71.4% agreed that they were looking for a career option*
Higher education students: 36.0% agreed that they were looking for a career option
It’s important to note that in the HE students category, the respondents were at different stages of their qualifications. As such, most of them would have been seeking casual work, instead of graduate or other full-time positions (this is supported by the data). However, when the same sub-groups were asked if they would “settle for any job as long as it pays money”, this was the response:
Unemployed respondents: 61.7% agreed that they would take any job that paid money*
Higher education students: 37.7% agreed that they would take any job that paid money
There is something quite moving about those figures. They show that young people who are unemployed are motivated by the idea of finding a job with actual prospects, but most are prepared to take any job in order to get by. In fact, they are far more likely than students seeking casual jobs to take whatever they can get. And the figures are actually distorted somewhat by unemployed respondents who are educated to university level (see the bottom of this blog entry).
It is also noteworthy that the same unemployed respondents had the most flexible attitude towards working evenings and weekends (90.0% agreed) and were only slightly less amenable to the idea of relocation than those who were employed and also seeking a job.
Within the context of this analysis, it is difficult to afford any credence to the idea that unemployed people are not naturally disposed to the idea of finding a job. To the contrary, the analysis indicates that unemployed young people (a subgroup dominated in this sample by young males with lower educational attainment) are aspirational, yes, but also desperate to find a job of any kind just to have an income. Therefore, shifting the onus to the individual level to explain worklessness, rather than focusing on wider societal or economic conditions, seems to be a rather shady tactic at best.
* The figures were higher for unemployed people with lower levels of education i.e. of those unemployed respondents with no qualifications or National level qualifications (Scottish equivalent of GCSEs) 72.4% agreed that they were looking for a career option (0.0% disagreed), whilst an overwhelming 89.7% agreed they would take any job that paid money (3.4% disagreed).