Benefit proposals/discourses are wrong to equate work/labour as source of ‘self-worth’…

Surrounding the benefit changes, and the £28bn cuts to welfare, is this perception that one of the main, if not the only serious, sources of self-development is labour/work. Consider Ken Livingstone’s support for workfare:

It doesn’t do poor and unemployed people any favours to leave them out of work. If you get people into the habit of getting out of bed, doing something, having a sense of worth and if that involves getting people who are currently unemployed helping out with the elderly or clearing up an area or things like that, I think it’s worth doing.

Livingstone’s talk of “sense of worth” is equated to paid work. However, it shouldn’t be a surprise that this isn’t just a right-wing phenomena. Marx and many socialists/communists are guilty of the same thing. For Marx, labour was intrinsically related to alienation, production processes (mode of production) was the central route to reforming the self and allowing for creativity and freedom (again, to do with freedom from the necessity of labour.) Whilst relations and forces of production are in need of change, equating them as the main basis of self-development ignores the wide range of sources of identity. It ignores the fluidity of identity and people’s ability to change and construct their self.

Instead, there needs to be a broader consideration of theorists associated with traditions such as ecoanarchism, which refer to how a change in the structures of our society need to be ushered in by a revolutionary movement of self enlightened general will; through technological alterations and a realisation that not all ‘needs’ are actual needs, more just capitalist constructions in order to justify the system and attempts to steer away from the falling rate of profit.

The problem with the current system is that it promotes full employment as an endless goal, when the de-skilling and the desire for profit prevents such a occurence. Work shouldn’t be seen as the benchmark for self-worth, it might provide people with an aspect of their identity, but there are so many other activities and aspects that inform what and who they are – this deterministic moral crusade results in detrimental polices such as the potentially illegal workfare IDS proposals. This has to change.


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