Unemployment figures out later today may show that there are now two million people in the UK out of work. A coalition formed by the PCS union had this letter published in today's Guardian
If, as expected, unemployment rises to around 2 million today, many of the newly redundant workers will be shocked to discover the low level of benefits in the UK. A single person over 25 years old receives £60.50 per week, dropping to £47.95 for those under 25. The UK is near the bottom of the western European league table in comparative rates of unemployment benefit.
The gap between benefits and earnings has widened significantly over the past 30 years because jobseeker's allowance (JSA) has increased at a rate below inflation. If it had increased in line with earnings, an unemployed person would receive in excess of £110 per week.
Politicians and government advisers argue that higher benefits would be a disincentive to work, but a wealth of evidence suggests that the descent into poverty has been a greater cause of economic inactivity. Benefit rates must be high enough to allow people to live a healthy lifestyle for physical and mental wellbeing. To achieve this, our long-term aim must be to substantially improve the miserly rates paid at present.
The government has rightly made a priority of increasing demand to maintain employment at as high a level as possible, and recognised the importance of measures that will have a speedy impact. Unemployed people, because of their low benefits, are particularly likely to spend any increases they receive as soon as they receive them - pound for pound, raising JSA levels will do more to fight off the recession than any other fiscal stimulus.
This is why the TUC has called for the government to respond to the lengthening dole queues by urgently raising JSA by £15 per week. We echo that call as the first stage of bringing dignity and respect to those thrown out of work by an economic crisis not of their making.
Brendan Barber general secretary, TUC, Mark Serwotka general secretary, PCS, John McDonnell MP, Colin Hampton National Unemployed Centres Combine, Eileen Devaney UK Coalition Against Poverty, Fiona Weir Gingerbread, Iman Achara British Black Anti-Poverty Network, Frances Dowds Northern Ireland Anti-Poverty Network, Niall Cooper Church Action on Poverty, Neal Lawson Compass, Andrew Fisher Left Economic Advisory Panel, Clare Caves European Anti Poverty Network, Maeve McGoldrick Community Links, Paul Nicolson Zacchaeus 2000 Trust, Prof Jonathan Rutherford Soundings Journal