Boot-camps are a fashionable word. These days, anyone so minded can sign up for a ‘boot-camp’ fitness session in the local park, if they happen to live in an area where there are such things. But what about the real thing?
Back when I was a parliamentary candidate for the Conservative Party, I raised exactly this issue at conference. When I said to Michael Gove, then on the education brief, that boot-camps for the work-shy young were the way forward, he agreed. But he did insist that they would be too expensive. So I was struck by the news this week that despite the formidable budget cuts required to get the national finances under control that there is suddenly spare cash for one thing at least: boot-camps for the work-shy young.
As so often with the Conservative Party, it helps to ask, even if they have stumbled upon something sensible to do, whether or not they are doing it for quite the right reasons.
The thrust of the case laid out to the media seems to be that signing up young people looking for benefits to a regimen that makes them more employable is merely a matter of good economics. Even if it is that too, I say that it is about more than that most fundamentally.
Saying the State money is worthwhile, but saving young people from the something-for-nothing culture is essential. There is no need for any of us to lack compassion in saying so. But as so many from left and right alike agree, there has not historically been much compassion in a benefits system in which almost the only attribute of character passed down through generations is dependence on handouts.
People prised away from their economic crutches can easily feel hard done by or put upon. Add in the emotional immaturity often natural in the young, and it’s not hard to see why requiring a programme of self-discipline might raise complaints about punishment. Indeed, before recipient’s had a chance to be personally outraged themselves, parts of the press and the standing state-funded charity sector (which could use a little more self-reliance itself) were more than willing to be immediately outraged on their behalf. The professionally outraged have contributed to the sense of entitlement amongst the third and fourth generation benefit claimants. They should be ignored.
But who ever complained, afterwards, of being given the opportunity to grow up a bit? Those getting a boot-camp for their benefits are the lucky ones. They get the chance to develop some more character. The ones being punished are the new generation of benefits-dependents who do not yet realise how imprisoned they are in a system which offers a money but can cost dignity.
But the boot camp will not work because they will not be offered the jobs. Presumably, the newly trained eager recruits will be looking for jobs that are low paid and menial. There are also newly arrived migrants who will do those menial, low paid jobs on offer that these people will be offered as most of them are not trained to do anything else other than menial jobs. The migrants do it with a smile, they clean our toilets, clean our roads and empty our bins with pride and dedication because we gave them a chance.
Sadly, a well fed welfare state such as ours only encourages home-grown benefit claimants and the professionally outraged, often state funded themselves, will continue to encourage non-compliance.
When our schools start giving real careers advice, telling the truth about the needs of the economy, the real jobs on offer and the qualifications needed to get them and a strong message that the taxpayers do not owe them a living or a life living off others, then we may change attitudes.
Oh, and we manage to control our borders too.