UK wants to 'tear apart' European social model
by Hannes Swoboda
In the current economic climate, with millions actively seeking jobs that do not exist, it seems cynical and shameful to point the finger at the most vulnerable among us
Listening to British Prime Minister David Cameron's speech on welfare reform, we may be forgiven for thinking he is competing with German Chancellor Angela Merkel with regards to anti-social policy. The United Kingdom finds itself in a double-dip recession, with soaring unemployment - nearing 22 per cent for young people, including many indebted young graduates - yet Cameron is seeking to claw back an extra £10bn from the most vulnerable, by reforming the welfare system and "asking the big questions" about the future of the nation.
Among those big questions for Cameron is whether or not citizens are entitled to benefits when they cannot find work, in a country and in an economic situation that is not promoting the creation of employment. He wonders whether recipients of welfare benefits cannot be made to do full-time community work, instead of applying for jobs or taking up training.
The big question for the future of the British nation is really whether or not they want to tear apart the European social model. Based on the premise that the strong support the weak and that the state coordinates that help, this model is one of the great achievements of our post-industrialised societies. It goes without saying and should not be exploited through polemic that working is preferable to unemployment. But in the current economic climate with millions actively seeking jobs that do not exist, it seems cynical and shameful to point the finger at the most vulnerable among us.
I have met many people, and especially young people, who do everything they can - studying, learning languages, getting experience in often unpaid internships and applying for countless jobs - but the jobs on offer simply do not match the number of people seeking them. We have repeatedly called for the European Union-wide introduction of a 'youth guarantee', where states commit to guaranteeing a job, further education or work-focused training for all young people after a maximum of four months of unemployment. Similar schemes already exist in Finland and Austria and are already proving successful.
For a scheme like this to function, we must promote growth to create jobs and give citizen opportunities and some hope for their future. And we must ensure equality and fairness in the way all people are treated, on the labour market as well as by governments. It is essential in these difficult economic times that we do not undo the progress our societies have achieved, but affirm our belief in fundamental human rights and dignity.
When Cameron suggests that three children are the maximum any single mother on welfare benefits should have, he does not actively prevent her from having more children. He does, however, make it acceptable for an office or an administration to pass judgement on a woman's life choices. He indirectly raises the question of financially motivated abortions. There are countries in which governments have seized control over life choices as personal as this one. Those do not tend to be countries with standards of human and civil rights that Europe would aspire to. On the contrary, they are countries with little respect for human dignity.
It is regrettable that the British Prime Minister underestimates the value of dignity, equality and solidarity in Europe so much. The achievement of the European social model is precisely that nobody's livelihood is threatened and that security is guaranteed - for the most vulnerable - at all times. Recent elections in Europe, and also the regional elections in the UK, have demonstrated that the conservative approach of austerity and social ignorance does not convince voters. It remains to be seen whether Cameron can convince the British people.
Hannes Swoboda is president of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament
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The level of unemployment in Europe is a tragedy that deserves some sort of recognition of collective failure on the part of the authorities, writes our secret columnist in Brussels
Britain, including the political class, has been bought by large international corporations. It is Europe's tax haven, giving these corporations millions by agreeing to write off their tax liabilities. They are encouraged to pay minimum hourly rates to the honest workers and are encouraging the government to peel back employment laws designed to protect the average citizen.
Part of this process is to bring the majority to near the poverty line, where every day is a fight for the basics needed for living. Cheap labour and corporations paying minimum tax, maximum dividends. Sounds like 150 yeas ago. We need a strong Europe with a strong social ethos, which forces the UK politicians to conform to a more balanced society.
Brian Smith - England, citizen
It is time to hold welfare recipients responsible for their life choices and stop holding everyone else responsible for the consequences of their decisions. Surley, there are justifiable cases where welfare handouts are appropriate but when welfare is becoming a lifestyle - then it is time to make changes. Also, if the coffers are empty, they are empty. Sorry to bring you the bad news.
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