Wishful thinking with more than a bit of nastiness seems like the best summation of the hapless Conservatives’ latest effort to tackle a UK labour and skills shortage crisis they fuelled with their hard Brexit.

It is a jaw-dropping premise, to say the least, that threatening people who are unemployed with sanctions is going to miraculously fill any kind of significant amount of, let alone the bulk of, the vast number of vacancies in the UK, estimated last week by the Office for National Statistics at 1.124 million.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt declared in his Budget last Wednesday: “We have around one million vacancies in the economy but excluding students there are over seven million adults of working age who are not in work.

“That is a potential pool of seven people for every vacancy. We believe work is a virtue.”

It never takes the Tories long to set out their ideology on this subject. And it is difficult not to think of Victorian days of workhouses when the Conservatives come out with this sort of talk.

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Never mind that some people might want to stay at home and bring up their children, or that many of the large number of over-50s who have decided to leave the workforce might have had enough of the often break-neck pace of the modern workplace. And enhancing childcare provision is not going to magically make the arithmetic add up for all parents who might want to work, particularly the likes of people who would have to take on low-paid jobs or posts with hours which vary week by week or are otherwise difficult to match with childcare. That is before we even get to juggling travel to jobs and childcare.

And, of course, in a general sense, there is an utter lack of recognition by the Tories of the situations of many people across all age groups in all sorts of circumstances. It sadly seems natural for them to generalise, to try to demonise those not working and even paint a picture that these individuals are just lazy.

It is worth considering the language used by Mr Hunt: “workless households”, and “sanctions” applied “more rigorously”.

There was quite a big preamble from Mr Hunt, as he seemed at pains initially to portray himself as helping as he outlined measures to get the long-term sick, people with disabilities, and young people in care into the workforce. However, it quickly turned to typical Tory fayre, as Mr Hunt got on to a group described as “welfare recipients” in a sub-heading of the published Budget speech.

The Chancellor declared: “The next set of employment reforms affects those on universal credit without a health condition who are looking for work or on low earnings. There are more than two million jobseekers in this group, more than enough to fill every single vacancy in the economy.

“Independence is always better than dependence, which is why we believe those who can work, should.”

He added: “So sanctions will be applied more rigorously to those who fail to meet strict work-search requirements or choose not to take up a reasonable job offer.

“And for those working low hours, we will increase the administrative earnings threshold from the equivalent of 15 hours to 18 hours at national living wage for an individual claimant, meaning that anyone working below this level will receive more work coach support alongside a more intensive conditionality regime.”

So not only a stick to find a job – which the Tories seem not to realise for myriad reasons might not always be easy – but also to work more hours.

The hope of the Tories is, presumably, that this group of people will sort out the mess the Conservatives have created.

It is a truly remarkable state of affairs.

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And the Tories also seem content to overlook the obvious and crucial point that the UK’s unemployment rate surely signals the country is already around what economists refer to as full employment.

The UK unemployment rate in the November 2022 to January 2023 period was just 3.7 per cent.

Yet the Tories seem to think huge numbers of people “on universal credit without a health condition who are looking for work or on low earnings” – who have already faced massive pressure from the Conservatives’ policies – will with the latest set of threats head to the workforce to fill all the jobs.

This naïve view also fails to take into account the notion of structural unemployment, and notably the fact that people’s skills need to match the vacancies.

It was hard to disagree with Scottish Trades Union Congress general secretary Roz Foyer when she declared last week: “In his pursuit of reducing economic inactivity, he’s thrown potential workers to the wolves by increasing tougher sanctions for those who are unemployed or sick. Increasing sanctions, while giving corporations £9 billion of tax deductions during a cost-[of]-living crisis, is the personification of Tory government.”

In some ways, it would have been better if some of the senior Tory Cabinet ministers of recent times had been out of work instead of in their posts. At least they would not have been able to do damage. If any of these individuals had been entitled to universal credit, it would surely have been a price worth paying.

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Of course, there is a blindingly obvious solution to the UK’s current embarrassing and dire labour market crisis. This would be the return of free movement of people between the UK and European Economic Area countries.

However, this is not something which suits the Tories’ ideology. Sadly, it is difficult to put a cigarette paper between the Conservatives and Labour now when it comes to a desire to pander to certain sections of the electorate by clamping down on immigration.

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Everyone should realise that this clampdown has greatly dampened the UK’s growth potential, weighing down on living standards for all, and will continue to do so in years ahead.

However, it is far easier for the Tories to play to the gallery by vilifying welfare claimants, as well as migrants.

We can be sure though that these supposed Conservative values or behaviours, or whatever they are, will not in any way whatsoever address a UK skills and labour crisis that is in large part of the Tories’ own design.

And what we are witnessing is a shameful state of affairs.