This is the week Labour turned its back on the welfare state

As Ed Miliband backs a cap on benefits spending, Tom Walker says that the more you read of Labour’s new welfare policies, the worse it gets

June 6, 2013
4 min read

Two Eds… but their policies are no joke

They finally went and did it. Granted, the signs have long been there – not least in human form as Liam Byrne – but this week the Labour leadership finally capitulated to the Tory agenda on benefits once and for all.

This is what Ed Miliband said today: ‘The biggest item of expenditure, alongside the NHS, is the social security budget. The next Labour government will have less money to spend… Social security spending, vital as it is, cannot be exempt from that discipline.’ He came out in favour of a three-year cap on welfare spending.

As ever with an Ed Miliband speech, there is plenty of vague leftish waffle in there to sugar the pill – this time talking about housebuilding and tackling private landlords. But that should not distract us from the core of the message, full of disgusting phrases like ‘something for nothing’, ‘there is a minority who don’t work but should’ and ‘it is wrong to be idle on benefits when you can work’.

The more you read, the worse it gets. Miliband thinks that people should get lower unemployment benefits unless they have worked for at least five years. He proposes that parents should be forced (‘we should offer and demand’) into work-related training when their children are as young as 3. He supports Atos-style tests for disability benefit in principle. He says the retirement age should increase – again!

No opposition to cuts

All that comes after Ed Balls’ prelude earlier in the week. His plan to slash winter fuel payments was widely reported as only hitting ‘wealthy pensioners’. But this is to misunderstand the point of the principle of universal benefits.

As soon as you limit benefits to people on lower incomes, you introduce the nightmare of means-testing, where people have to fill in long forms and prove they’re poor to get the benefit. People feel stigmatised, and afraid that any error will carry a harsh punishment. The end result is that many leave money they are entitled to unclaimed.

Balls spoke of ‘iron discipline’ on spending – and said he would stick to the Tories’ spending plans after the election. In one deft move, then, Labour has not only given in over welfare but sold the pass on all public spending cuts for years to come.

Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee offered this explanation for his motive: ‘Swallowing the iron envelope hurts, but it has become a necessity since Labour’s failure to win crucial arguments: Labour “overspending” has been successfully blamed for the size of the national debt… The hard truth is that the Tories and their mighty press have won the battle over the writing of that history, as victors do.’

But is it any wonder that support for welfare is slipping when the main social democratic party refuses to argue for it? Is it a surprise that people don’t ‘get’ universalism when there’s no voice putting it forward? Are we really supposed to believe that people are so easily led that the right wing press’ myth-making can make them magically forget the entire banking crisis?

If Labour won’t speak up for the welfare state at the very moment when its existence is imperilled, then it’s up to us on the left to make sure we defend it more strongly than ever.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill


1,890