Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Another day, another remedy

Ken Clarke's analysis of the riots is a broken penal system (today's Guardian). He bases this observation on the fact that three quarters of those charged already had a criminal record. He calls for a rehabilitation revolution. Amen to that.

Of course, it's hard to rehabilitate offenders if the economy is broken because a key factor in successful rehabilitation is being able to find ex-offenders jobs on their release. As the economy flatlines and recession returns to most of our overseas markets, and unemployment rises, there are few jobs for those coming out of prison and young offender institutions, so very little hope of a rehabilitation revolution.

The trouble with Clarke's analysis - as with that of Cameron's broken Britain rhetoric - is that it is strong on blaming the poor and weak on helping to put things right. Rhetoric is not what's needed. What is needed is something that addresses the issue of worklessness and the only remedy to that is creating more jobs. And as Keynes demonstrated in the 1930s, when the private sector is incapable or unwilling to do this, the public sector has to step in.

In the medium term, this is cheaper than public support for the long-term unemployed. So the issue is not do we spend public money in this area but how. We can spend vast amounts tackling a problem or we can spend sensibly to prevent it. Creating economic growth and jobs for all seems to be a better way of spending that money than on more prisons and endless mean benefits.

We need more than Ken Clarke's remedy: 'Addressing unemployment means making progress on the economy by getting the deficit under control and pressing ahead with welfare reform and work programmes.' Because his remedy lacks any reference to how jobs might be created.

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