Work for the Dole: Enterprise Allowance Scheme (Thatcher’s UBI?)

James O’Brien:

…Manchester went technicolor, … as a result of…

Shaun Ryder:

“As a result of Margaret Thatcher closing down all the industries. And then developing this thing for all people in struggling bands called the Enterprise Allowance Scheme. Which I thought we was the only band that started on the Enterprise Allowance Scheme, but the more that I’ve spoke to other bands from our era, we all started on the Enterprise Allowance Scheme!”

“You went on the Enterprise Allowance and instead of getting £80 a fortnight you got £80 a week. but you was on it for two years, then after the two years ended, … if you didn’t make it you couldn’t go and sign on for two years. ”

“It was a real risk, … but we all took it, we all worked hard.”


Vague Post-Punk Memories

Mark Fisher in conversation with Tom Vague (Producer of the post-punk zine “Vague”)
In Post-Punk Then and Now, Repeater Books

Mark Fisher: How did you fund that? Obviously the Ants one sold really well and that funded the next few…

Tom Vague: Selling them outside gigs… With the Thatcher thing that really took place in the 1980s, we thought the whole point was about rebelling against that. We were “getting on our bikes” as Norman Tebbit says it, looking for work, and setting up a small business. That really wasn’t the intention on the way, and it didn’t work out financially but there was the Ants one, and the Psychic TV issue was cheap to make…

MF: Then there’s the “anti-work” thing, which started to work through the 1980s in particular. You mentioned it with the “Right To Work” stuff, and it’s interesting in thinking about that as an opposition to Thatcherism. Rather than demanding work it’s about demanding alternatives to work. I’m sure in one of those 1980s Vague issues you say how long you were on the dole for…

TV: Yes, so that’s the answer to how I financed it! [Laughter]. Yes, so just to find an alternative to nine-to-five work. I’m just about doing it now, only in my later years, not being on the dole. I’m not on the dole now — just.

MF: You said in one issue you’ve been on the dole however many years, someone else has been on the dole for 20 years, I don’t think that would be possible now would it? You’d be hounded off the dole…

TV: Yeah I don’t think it’s possible. It was always difficult. in the 1990s somebody brought up doing various Enterprise Allowance schemes. That’s Thatcher youth.

MF: Were you on the Enterprise Allowance Scheme?

TV: Yeah, a couple of times.

MF: I was on it as well — I wasn’t very enterprising. [Laughter]. But it was a way of staying afloat. It was a way of staying on the dole without being on the dole.

TV: yes, but I have got a work ethic to keep doing this for not much money. As you say, that’s the main point I’m trying to make, which is about alternatives to “work”.

I used to think Bread was funny. Maybe it was just grandad? Anyway.

The following are some quotes from various articles discussing the Enterprise Allowance Scheme… ps £40 in 1983 would be £142.58 in 2020

Where were you on the day she quit?

Anthony Wilson, 50, Founder of Factory Records
…Another thing I wonder is how many lefties – and I’m a lefty – look back now with misty eyes on the enterprise allowance scheme, that great nurturer of the young.

Alan Davies reveals Margaret Thatcher ‘saved’ him, despite his Left-wing leanings

Alan Davies, the comedian, has admitted he owes his career to Margaret Thatcher despite being a lifelong Labour Party voter and a self-confessed “Leftie”.

In an interview with the Telegraph, Davies says that what allowed him to pursue a career when he was a struggling stand-up performer in the 1980s was the Thatcher government’s Enterprise Allowance Scheme.

This guaranteed an income of £40 a week to unemployed people who set up their own business.

Davies, 47, said: “What really saved me – even though I was a Leftie and a Labour voter and a CND person – was Thatcher’s Enterprise Allowance Scheme.

“That kept my head above water. If you were on the dole you got £26 a week and you weren’t allowed to work. If you were on the Enterprise Allowance Scheme you got £40 and you could work. So I was on that for a year and I felt like I had to make it.”

Stand down, Margaret!

For some, the escapist tone of 80s pop started to chime with Thatcherism. Some started to take up the entrepreneurial spirit that Thatcher came to embody, be it the Happy Mondays or Soul II Soul. “We were children of Thatcher,” says Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B. “And, for us, Thatcher legitimised a lot of things. In the old days, Arthur Daley figures were seen as rogues. But they became respectable, and so did we. The kind of parties that might have been illegal in the old days were now legitimate.”

Some budding musicians, DJs and label bosses took advantage of Thatcher’s business initiatives. “I wonder how many lefties like myself,” said Tony Wilson in 2000, “look back now with misty eyes on the Enterprise Allowance Scheme, that great nurturer of the young.” The scheme paid claimants a supplement on top of their weekly dole money to assist a business start up, providing they also put in £1,000 of their own money as capital. Although the scheme was eventually abandoned after creating thousands of short-lived business failures, it managed to assist fledgling labels like Warp, Creation and Domino.

The Peculiar Story Of Margaret Thatcher And Basic Income

The Enterprise Allowance Scheme started in 1981, offering those of working age who wanted to start a business an allowance of £40 a week, for up to one year. Recipients had to have been unemployed for at least eight weeks and have savings or loans of at least £1000, the equivalent to around £3600 today. These eligibility criteria clearly mean this couldn’t be defined as a basic income. Nonetheless, the scheme offered participants some means of subsistence, a financial floor they could stand on; once in the scheme the payments were an unconditional cash transfer, similar in structure to basic income. Any additional income was theirs to keep and the support wasn’t at risk of disappearing if their earnings rose.

At its peak, over 100,000 people enrolled each year and over the course of the scheme the total number of participants added up to 3.7% of the unemployed population. The EAS is credited with helping 325,000 people become self-employed, and according to participant testimonies without the program the resulting businesses either would have come significantly later or never existed at all. Famous EAS participants include Alan McGee of Creation Records, Julian Dunkerton of Superdry and the Turner Prize winning artist Jeremy Deller.

Of those enrolled in the EAS, a process that required multiple meetings and the submission of business plans, three quarters saw it all the way through. Eighteen months after enrolment, 65% of all original applicants had set up and were still employed in their business and over a fifth of these new business owners employed other people, not enrolled in the scheme. Contemporaneous figures from the World Bank say that for every 100 successful EAS participants, 64 additional jobs were created.

One leaf that David Cameron should take out of Thatcher’s book

The scheme appears to be based on Margaret Thatcher’s 1980s enterprise allowance scheme (EAS), the aim of which was to massage embarrassing unemployment figures and to entice people off the dole by offering a bit above the benefit entitlement to those starting up small or one-person businesses. Yet, despite that inauspicious origin, the old EAS was actually rather better than Cameron’s offer and, during its eight years, gathered a host of unlikely fans who, from the start of this recession, have been pressing first Labour and now the government to reinstate a similar scheme. Among these is New Deal of the Mind, which campaigns for a Roosevelt-style New Deal for young creative school leavers and graduates.

Thatcher’s EAS had some positive unintended consequences which the government should consider. One was the chance it gave to many creative young men and women – musicians, artists, fashion designers – to launch careers in areas in which they would never have found jobs, in some cases going on to employ hundreds more people. Julian Dunkerton of Superdry is one alumnus. Jeremy Deller, the Turner Prize winner, is another. Deborah Orr, who writes for the Guardian and Martin Bright, founder of New Deal of the Mind are two journalist beneficiaries. Alan McGee of Creation Records started his career on Thatcher’s EAS. Economists and some politicians credit the EAS with forging the UK’s strong creative economy in the two decades following.

Revive the Enterprise Allowance Scheme

I was on the scheme myself in the late 1980s and I will always be grateful for the opportunity it gave me. I still despise Margaret Thatcher for the brutality of her economic model, which saw unemployment as a necessary evil. But the law of unintended consequences meant that a scheme intended to create a nation of mini-capitalists, spawned a generation of artists, musicians, fashion designers and even the odd left-wing journalist.

An Enterprise Allowance of the Left

The concept of state and public funding for the arts has a long history, from royal patronage of Shakespeare to Victorian cultural philanthropy. But the modern system of arts funding is a product of the post-war era, with the establishment of the Arts Council demonstrating that arts and culture were regarded as a worthwhile investment in public life from which all would benefit. Beyond official state funding, with its implicit anointing of recipients as acceptable and respectable, amateur and experimental artists, writers and musicians were given a lifeline in the 1960s and 1970s by the availability of the dole and of places to cheaply live, create and perform.

The Thatcher government made a deliberate shift from state to private and corporate funding of culture, with an unsurprising reduction in funding for experimental art or productions which challenged the status quo. But the Thatcher era was also notable for the Enterprise Allowance, a weekly payment scheme offered in the cynical hope of cutting the country’s unemployment figures through seeing the young unemployed claim it rather than the dole. In fact, the scheme was widely subverted for economic sustenance by musicians, community artists, stand-up comics and the founders of independent record labels. This repurposing of state support by creative individuals is a clue to what could be done in future.

The creative route could help to avoid a lost generation

We need a return to the Thatcherite initiative which promoted self-employment by paying creative people to set up a business, says Martin Bright.

The EAS, which ran from 1983 until the early Nineties, has taken on near-mythical status for those of my generation who remember the mass unemployment of the period. It promoted self-employment by paying people £40 a week for a year while they set up a business. Not only was this slightly more than the dole, but it went straight into your bank account, allowing you to avoid the humiliation of signing on.

In return, applicants had to submit a basic business plan and invest £1,000 of their own money. Most importantly, they could define themselves not by what they had failed to be (gainfully employed) but what they wanted to become. I could call myself a journalist, and no one could argue. Others became musicians, actors, writers and painters – some, like McGee and Dunkerton, even became businessmen.

On the face of it, the EAS was a crude ideological attempt by the Thatcher government to bribe people to come off the dole and become mini-capitalists. But it ended up giving a massive boost to culture, art and design.

Reminiscing: Rock on the Dole

…many of the great bands that emerged in the late 1970’s simply would not have happened if it hadn’t been for the ‘relaxed’ attitude of the dole offices at that time.

Of course, come the 1980’s and the Thatcher years, that ‘relaxed’ attitude vanished and it became almost impossible to stay on the dole as a musician. However, ironically, it was Margaret Thatcher herself who threw musicians a life line in the form of the Enterprise Allowance Scheme. In order to try and do something about the mass unemployment that Britain was experiencing in the early 1980’s, Mrs T launched this new scheme which gave a guaranteed income of £40 a week to people who set up their own business. The idea being that it would create new businesses and stimulate growth through entrepreneurship. There were some hoops to jump through in order to qualify but the’ Starship Enterprise’, as it quickly became known as amongst the musicians of the day, helped launch the careers of Jarvis Cocker and Pulp amongst many other bands of that time. The Enterprise Allowance Scheme also helped a number of successful businesses get off the ground including Viz magazine and Superdry. Critics of the scheme pointed to the fact that one out of every six people who signed up for the new scheme saw their enterprise fail in the first year and that most of those ‘businesses’ consisted of sole traders. Nevertheless, it was a notable financial safety net for emerging talent who would not otherwise have been able to fund their work as musicians and songwriters.

James Hobbs — Thirty years on: the van revisited

Thirty years ago, in early 1990, I bought a camper van, packed it with homemade sketchbooks and pencils and, funded by £40 a week from Margaret Thatcher’s enterprise allowance scheme, set off around the country for six months retracing the route of an old travel book I’d found in a car boot sale: HV Morton’s In Search of England. Once home, I wrote about my experience, exhibited drawings completed on the trip, found a literary agent, and saw a parade of the UK’s top publishers politely turn it down.

What have I got to thank Thatcher for?

Anyone else remember the Enterprise Allowance Scheme?

anyone else remember the Enterprise Allowance Scheme?

This was the scheme that launched a thousand arts careers – stand up comedians, theatre companies, visual artists and more. Tracy Emin, Viz comic, Alan Davies… a seemingly endless parade of us got £40 a week for a year plus whatever we could earn on top once we’d borrowed for the day the £1000 we had to have to start. I remember a group of us pooled our collective resources (well, the collective resources of our parents) to make the £1000 and then moved it from bank to bank to meet the criteria.

23-7-2020 edit: And then coincidentally this from a few days ago found via reddit: a search for the text leads to the Telegraph article below

OP: “Even when trying to portray themselves as downtrodden workers these people are still woefully out of touch (That’s £2.5k in 2020 money).”



Best (most informative) comment:

9 points
3 days ago
it does sound like a typical ”i started with nuffin more than the clothes i stood up in and access to mummy’s trust fund” but the EAS was one of the few schemes that actually worked…i was on a YTS which is effectively what has just been announced for 16-25’s..and that more often than not was just free labour subsidised by the so-called ‘anti socialist’ tory government..(irony, no?)..get one for six months sack em, get another one. it helped employers of course and also kept people on their toes, having no guaranteed employment any more…if that’s what one is after….
thing with EAS was, forty quid..(and your rent paid) was enough to pay your bills and get started if your overheads weren’t huge.. so ideal for artists..loads of TV companies started with a video camera and EAS.
and you didn’t have to sign on, so no dhss on your case, no having to be in the same place every fortnight, which was nice.
and the bit about the grand loan from parents was, you only really had to prove you had a grand in the bank on the day they soon as you were approved dad, or your drug dealing mate who trusts you, or who ever, gets their money back.
i suspect in the end they considered it too expensive.. or were just outraged and jealous at all the ”circus performers and artists” travelling around the world having a lovely time on their forty quid a week.

Young people need the sort of leg up that Mrs Thatcher’s scheme gave me

If Rishi Sunak really wants to help the next generation he should follow Mrs Thatcher’s example and boost support for young entrepreneurs

In 1986, Margaret Thatcher saved my life. I was in my mid-20s, on the dole, with little prospect of a job, and trying to get started as a cartoonist, illustrator and painter from a dingey basement flat in Deptford. Amid soaring unemployment, there were millions of other young people like me – desperate for work, but with precious few opportunities to be had.

Then I applied for the Enterprise Allowance Scheme. Introduced nationwide in 1983, this gave £40 a week (not bad money back then) to people on the dole who wanted to start a businesses. The only requirement was to have £1,000 to invest, which I borrowed from my dad, and a basic business plan.

It’s the best money my dad or the British taxpayer ever spent. Having listened to Rishi Sunak’s plan to subsidise jobs for young people, an echo of another Thatcher-era idea, the Youth Training Scheme, I hope the experience of myself and hundreds of thousands of others might…

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