The “Get a Job” Fallacy

Many years ago, I was standing at a Trades Council stall in a pedestrianised part of a city centre, handing out leaflets. It was so long ago, I can’t remember what it was for (I think it was anti-racism, but I did a lot of this at the time…), but I do remember it was a Saturday, and it wasn’t about jobs or work specifically, and benefit sanctions weren’t an issue back then.

At one point, a middle-aged woman walked up to me and said three words and walked away, re-joining what looked to be her husband, and walked on.

“Get a job!”

I was pretty taken aback. As she walked away, I think I mumbled to her, almost sullenly, “I’ve got one!”

As I say, it was a Saturday, and I worked Monday-Friday at the time. I was a Trade Union activist and Branch Officer, which included being a delegate to the local Trades Council – hence why I was there.

This woman had assumed that I was out of work, because I was standing in the city centre, on a Saturday, handing out leaflets. I may have been casually dressed, but that was it. I was clean and clean-shaven and dressed as many would be on a Saturday, so my appearance had little to do with this.

It was all in her head and the perception that she had built, based on cultural stereotypes, reinforced by TV and media.

This woman made no effort to engage in conversation or debate. She just wanted to speak her mind, not even caring what it was that I was there for. She made an instant assumption and then prescribed what she thought was the remedy.

Such unthinking, presumptuousness is not a trait I possess. Through upbringing and through my early work years, it was instilled into to me not to presume or assume anything without a certainty of fact, or at least corroboration.

Yet for so many, this “get a job” mentality still pervades, despite when today it is even more of a fallacy than it was when it was thrown at me.

So let’s look at some of the facts and figures about the jobs market and see just how easy it is to “get a job” in the UK.



Some quotes from the document linked to above:

“For October to December 2015, 74.1% of people aged from 16 to 64 were in work”

Put another way, 25.9% of the working age population were not in work.

“The Claimant Count measures the number of people claiming unemployment related benefits. The Claimant Count does not meet the internationally agreed definition of unemployment specified by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The estimates are sourced from the Jobcentre Plus administrative system.

“For January 2016 there were 760,200 people claiming unemployment related benefits. This consisted of:

  • 632,300 people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • 127,900 people who were out of work and claiming Universal Credit”

That’s the claimant count – but it doesn’t tie-up with the unemployment figure, because:

Unemployment is measured according to internationally accepted guidelines specified by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Unemployed people in the UK are:
  • without a job, have actively sought work in the last 4 weeks and are available to start work in the next 2 weeks
  • out of work, have found a job and are waiting to start it in the next 2 weeks

People who meet these criteria are classified as unemployed irrespective of whether or not they claim Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) or other benefits. The estimates are derived from the Labour Force Survey and are published for 3 month average time periods.”

This explains the difference between the unemployment figure of 1.69 million and the claimant count of 760,200. Striking, isn’t it. Almost a million more people are unemployed than can claim unemployment benefits.

Then we have the economically inactive.

Economically inactive people are not in employment but do not meet the internationally accepted definition of unemployment because they have not been seeking work within the last 4 weeks and/or they are unable to start work within the next 2 weeks.”

And there are 8.88 million of them aged 16-64!
So who are the economically inactive?
These would be students, the long-term sick, unpaid carers, early retirees and NEETs (not in education, employment or training – a term usually applied to young people, 16-24).

Now the above states that these people are unable to start work within the next 2 weeks – but that is based on an assumption that all these people are not looking for work.

Just because these people fall into these categories doesn’t mean that all of them are not looking for work. Obviously, some will be – but they are all counted as if they are not.

Consider also that there are plenty of people in work looking for another job.

“Over half (54%) of UK workers wish they could change career, rising to 72% for those aged between 25 and 34, according to research by long term investment savings specialist Standard Life” – 5 January 2016.

54% of 31.42 million (the number of people in work) is just under 17 million. If a mere 5% of those people are looking for work, that’s another 850,000 people job searching on top of the unemployed. Bearing in mind that this is about 2.7% of the number of people in work, it seems to be quite a reasonable figure.

290k people immigrated for work in year ending Sept 2015. 59% had a definite job to go to

— ONS (@ONS) February 25, 2016

So, according to the ONS, how many jobs were there for people to apply for?

“There were 776,000 job vacancies for the 3 months to January 2016…the highest since comparable records began in 2001”

So, 776,000 job vacancies – the most there has been in recent years, apparently – for the 1.69 million officially classed as unemployed – which is roughly 2.2 times the number of vacancies. Straight away, you see a substantial deficit between the number of jobs and the number of people officially looking for work.

Let’s try and work out some more numbers for other people who are looking for work and are not classed as unemployed.

I have suggested a figure of 850,000 of the employed are looking for another job. Assuming a similar 2.7% of the economically inactive 8.88 million are looking for work, that figure comes to c240,000. When you consider that there are 853,000 classified as NEET within that 8.88 million, the number looking for work in this group may well be much more, but let’s stick with the 2.7% methodology: The employed that are job searching is therefore estimated as 850,000 and the economically inactive that are job searching is estimated as 240,000.

Total = 1.09 million.

Add that figure to our 1.69 million unemployed and you have 2.78 million people looking for work – more than three and a half times the number of vacancies – and I think it is fair to say that these are conservative estimates.

Now consider that this situation is only likely to get worse, not better. Consider artificial intelligence (AI) and robots.

Five million jobs estimated to go by 2020!

The idea that there are plenty of jobs to go round is an obvious fallacy. Yet we live in a country where the following views are rampant:


The idea that so many people are screwing the welfare state is just a nonsense. It is an idealogical concept that is being used as an excuse to cut welfare spending – and then cut taxes.

The reality of benefit fraud is that it is tiny in proportion to what gets spent.

According to the Government’s own press release of 5 November 2015:

benefit fraud stands at £1.3 billion or 0.8% of expenditure


0.8% of expenditure!

Benefit fraud was £1.2 billion the year before, so it isn’t significantly different – but it is slightly up, despite the volume of benefit sanctions being applied and the number of people being shopped for fraudmost of which doesn’t exist.

Note that this was whilst:

claimant error fell to a record low of 0.6% of spending, which is £1.1 billion in 2014/15

official error remained at its lowest rate of £0.7 billion or 0.4% of expenditure

Aside from the volume of people looking for work compared to the number of available jobs apparently being something that the Government and mainstream media doesn’t seem to want to specifically tell us, thereby enabling this “get a job” fallacy to fester and go relatively unchallenged, the concept that a lot of the unemployed are just ‘feckless’ or ‘lazy’ also needs to be shot-down as a nonsense.

One of the potential answers to these issues is something that is increasingly being touted world-wide as a way to prevent the unemployed from slipping into abject poverty, especially when jobs are going to be at an even greater premium in the future.

A universal basic income, or citizen’s income.

What it is can vary from country to country, but the basic concept is the same; that everyone gets an unconditional amount of money to live on, regardless of circumstance. It is paid for by the reductions to the state welfare costs from simplifying the welfare system, as well as other changes, such as income tax reform.

For a general explanation, see this Reddit wiki page.

There have been schemes run in the past, such as the Mincome experiment in Canada.

Canada is looking at introducing the system, which is already a policy of the likes of the Green Party.

Switzerland is having a referendum on the subject after a popular initiative gained sufficient support for it.

As a consequence of this, a survey was carried out in Switzerland and found that few people would simply stop working.

 only 2% said they would stop working completely, while another 8% said they would ‘rather’ stop working…

53% say that, if they receive a UBI, they would spend more time with the family. 54% of the Swiss would like to pursue further education,  while 22% in total would want to start a business or be self-employed.

67% believe basic income would “relieve people from existential fears”.

With a basic income, 40% would engage more in voluntary work, a trend that is even more important among supporters of the idea (60%).

Hardly an indicator of any great laziness or fecklessness, from people being asked what they would do with an unconditional income – this whilst our current Government sanctions the income of many thousands of people for anything remotely considered to be not doing enough to find work – and where I have demonstrated that there are far more people trying to find work than there are jobs.

Really, if we just paid people to do what they like, then I would take the attitude that it a) prevents them from starving, b) gives people greater flexibility to do what they want with their lives, c) would force employers to offer better wages and conditions in order to retain staff and d) would reduce the number of half-hearted, spurious and time-consuming job applications made by applicants that are not suited to the jobs that they are currently being forced to apply for.

This would also remove the stigma of getting benefits – so in a world where there are less and less jobs to go round, the likelihood of anyone whining at anyone else to “get a job”, should reduce to nil.



2 Replies to “The “Get a Job” Fallacy”

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