No one needs to be unemployed. The very word could and should be
consigned to the dustbin, along with "benefits". Both are negative,
stigmatic words, which could be replaced with "learning" and
This is not simply a fudge, or a redefinition of words, but an
altered mind-set, with profound implications. If learning were to
be repositioned as useful employment, it would follow that people
would be paid for it. And if learning was available to everyone,
then the only unemployed (other than the sick and severely
disabled) would be those who chose not to learn (and therefore not
to earn). Paid As You Learn (PAYL) would be essentially voluntary,
therefore, but the ultimate carrot over the stick: if you don't
learn, you don't earn.
Thus the majority of the benefits system could be replaced at a
stroke by PAYL. Children would be paid to go to school, thereby
learning from the age of five the value of paid work and of
contributing to the family's income.
People without a job, or those who lose their jobs, would be
paid to go back to school, thereby providing a permanent
safety-net, besides continuing the work ethic. Many disabled
people, while more limited in terms of job-availability, could
nevertheless get to school. These factors alone would take care of
child, unemployment, and disability benefits.
PAYL would operate on a touch-card system, similar to the Oyster
card on public transport. You touch in and touch out to register
each day's learning attendance. Doctors would have the authority to
swipe your card in the event of illness. Registered employers could
do the same thing for job applicants. Your card would thus
accumulate money on a daily basis, and could act like a debit card
for making payments and buying goods.
People who hung around on street corners or shopping centres
would do so at their cost, not society's - they would be unpaid if
they were not at school. Beggars might get short shrift - why
aren't they at school, earning money? Prisoners could ensure that
their PAYL went outside to help support their families.
The supposedly indolent families, with their blinds drawn, or
the unwaged travellers playing with broadband all day in their
mobile homes would really become myths. If they wanted to earn
money, they would have to go to school with their children. And
children who played truant would not be popular at home: they would
just have reduced the family's earnings.
Pensioners could supplement their pensions with PAYL if they
chose - for many, it would be a haven for useful activity, keeping
their brains active, providing a stimulating social environment,
and negating the need for so many day-centres.
Understandably, PAYL raises the spectre of the permanent
student. This is specious. Learning is no easy option, and many
would be inspired to look harder for alternative employment.
Others would grasp the training opportunities, and use PAYL as a
step to a better job (PAYL would effectively replace many training
budgets, in both the public and private sectors.) Yet others might
discover the joy of simply learning things. Some would become
teachers. At the very worst, is it not better to have someone
occupied rather than idle and on benefits?
School discipline would cease to be a problem. A zero-tolerance
policy applied to bad, disruptive, or uncooperative behaviour would
mean being "sent home". And that would mean no earnings.
In terms of curricula, for children, the concept of PAYL would
not have an impact on the national curriculum, or vice versa.
Adults should be able to choose, and choice should be as broad as
practically possible. It should not be overtly career-driven,
although such pathways would be included.
Learning, however, should also become a joy to many, and
academic, musical, and sports activities should be available. So
should accreditation, grading, and certificates, in order to
THIS leads to the cost. Despite PAYL's replacing much of the
benefits system and training budgets, there is undoubtedly a net
cost in terms of extra teachers and buildings. My view is that, in
the longer term, this is an investment that would be more than
PAYL is a vast opportunity to produce a nation of wise people,
and for the UK to become the cultural centre of the world. This has
huge economic, societal, and marketable advantages.
Only a wiser mass of people will work out how to run the world
better than we have. Despite the significant problem (some would
say, the thrill) that too many bright, educated people would make
life uncomfortable for those "in charge", isn't this a better
payback than barbarians at the gates?
John Drewry is a professional writer. He is interested in
developing this concept, and welcomes others' views at