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
6 June 2013

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.


 

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Dan Price 6 June 2013, 12.38

TO be honest they are between a rock and a hard place on this one. If they don’t do this, this is a stick they are going to be walloped with by the Tories over and over again, whether it is right or not. If they want to win the next election and not just be the last man standing then they have to make these kind of noises.

As you mention, the frustrating thing is that they don’t seem to be making the arguments for why welfare is important, they appear to have accepted the debate on this is over.

It shouldn’t be. There are two years to make the case for public spending in the right way.


David Urwin 6 June 2013, 13.36

Couldn’t agree more. Here is a copy of a letter I sent today. It’s a follow up to one I sent a few weeks ago:

06/06/13

Dear Ed,

I wrote to you on the 08/05/13 regarding my concerns that you and the Labour party in general were not addressing the right wing narrative of cultural and political hegemony currently taken as “fact” in the country nor were you espousing a different alternative social democratic narrative to counter these myths.

I am extremely upset with both your and Mr. Ed Balls speeches this week regarding welfare and austerity measures. In my previous letter I pointed out the necessity and simplicity of refuting the coalition’s ridiculous economic agenda but neither of you seem to have accepted this.

Whether this is due to cowardice or you are both in reality Tory lites I cannot say but I would like to point out that you have an opportunity to have an historic impact on the future of this country. The welfare state is there to help those people who have fallen upon hard times. Most have paid much more into National Insurance than they receive. It is a fair and equitable system. Do you really want to see more begging, petty crime, suicides and mental health problems with all the costs that entails (since you seem to be enthralled to petty number crunching) or are you the man I voted for, as a member of Unite, to be party leader? The right (I include the coalition government, the business world, most of the media and indeed the current zeitgeist in this concept so I am well aware of the difficulties you face) continually bangs on about reducing the deficit and austerity in general while at the same time Q.E. has ceaselessly been carried on outside the glare of media attention. The right argue that there is no “money tree” but what is Q.E. if not a “money tree”. I am not saying that Q.E. is wrong but it is not doing what the right claim. It is not being used for lending but instead it is being used to recapitalise the banking industry.

I beg you not to waste the opportunity you have been given in the way Tony Blair did. I stayed up all night waiting for the results of the 1997 election. I took hope from the landslide victory of Labour that day. That result was a statement from the people of this country that they wanted change. They were sick of the right wing money grabbing parasites that infested the Tory government and its corporate allies. But what did the people get? A pathetic wimp of a Prime Minister who toadied to the City of London, international corporations and his right wing friends (some riding a fine line between legitimacy and criminality). A Prime Minister who lied to his cabinet, lied to his party, lied to parliament and the country to, arguably, illegally invade another country in order to please his right wing republican pal George W. Bush.

If you believe in socialism or social democracy in any way I hope you will fight for and espouse the arguments for a better form of social structure and better lives for the majority of the people of this country (and even the world). I hope you will expose the lies and illogicality of the right wing agenda. If you are not the man I thought I was voting for the leadership of the labour party then what is the point of voting at all?

I received a reply to my previous letter from one of your minions (no offence R. Davis) but unless you are ready to begin a new narrative to counter and expose the Tory lies on the economy, welfare and corporate power, and offer a real alternative to the people of this country rather than Tory lite policies please don’t bother replying to this with pointless platitudes

Yours still in hope (but fading fast)

David Urwin


Will Podmore 6 June 2013, 14.33

Ed Balls said he will stick to whatever spending plans George Osborne announces for 2015-16. He called for ‘iron discipline’ and ‘big and painful choices’, in ‘a tough deficit reduction plan’ with ‘tough fiscal rules’. He said, “The next Labour government will have to plan on the basis of falling departmental spending.” He said there was little mileage in squeezing global tax avoiders.
He said he would end winter fuel payments for pensioners as a right. This means-testing abandons universalism and opens the door to further benefit cuts. It would save just £100 million a year (less than half a per cent of the £207 billion welfare bill).
All this proves that Labour has completely bought into the City’s policies.
One doesn’t fight the opponent by adopting his policies! Labour is just strengthening the government’s ruinous policies.


chrisso 7 June 2013, 10.17

Whilst I read Red Pepper and agree with some of its articles I disagree with its claim here that ‘Labour is turning its back on the welfare state.’

I know from my own work sphere there are some that don’t wish to work whatever incentives are offered. But it’s a small minority. But some commentators out there seem to live on another planet: saying “EM used 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’.” It’s time to get Orwellian and stop abusing the language Tom Walker, you’re talking hyperbole!

Other falsehoods trotted out: “Miliband thinks that people should get lower unemployment benefits unless they have worked for at least five years.” No, he said that those that worked and had paid contributions should get higher benefits. That’s not the same thing.

“He proposes that parents should be forced (‘we should offer and demand’) into work-related training when their children are as young as 3.” Is there any reason why a single carer parent supported with benefits should not receive training, part-time possibly, whilst their child is in nursery, for example?

“He supports Atos-style tests for disability benefit in principle”. He did not vouchsafe Atos as such but the idea that Pips benefits (as they are to be known) will just be paid without ensuring that they go to the right people at the right rate is daft. That requires a validation system.

“He says the retirement age should increase – again!” As people live longer the age that they get retirement benefits (not the ‘retirement age’ by the way! very un-pc) will have to rise too. No-one seriously disputes this. I’m almost at the age I can get an OAP pension but my children will surely have to wait longer. I am also still working!

Another old chestnut – “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.” We have had means-testing since 1945 and earlier, it’s not new! It’s called fairness. It’s not like Orwell’s accounts of 1930s household means testing where one employed adult in the family was deemed able to support other adults in the family that were unemployed. Has TW never completed a claim form or filled in a tax return? It’s not a nightmare.

More tosh? “Balls said he would stick to the Tories’ spending plans after the election. In one deft move Labour has not only given in over welfare but sold the pass on all public spending cuts for years to come.” Rubbish! In May 2015, if Labour is in power, where do its finances come from on Day 1? Through plans made at least two years earlier by the previous govt. It has no option. Blair and Brown said the same in 1997 when Labour came to power. Any government has to. It’s called prudence, my friend.

However IMO it’s perfectly reasonable that the state insists that claimants of a certain age either take jobs (paid at minimum or living wage level, not for benefits alone) or take training or actively volunteer in exchange for benefits.

For decades the State has made not working a disincentive to paying benefits, benefits offices have their spies and sources. Some – again a minority – claim incapacity when that is a historical sickness benefit issue, and whilst they are able to work now a minority prefer not to – they may get more if they don’t so it’s an understandable response. Again, this IS a minority but I know this from my own experience.

The problem is the red tops and the Tories, aided and abetted by Clegg (when did you last hear Clegg standing up for fairness and balance?) have succeeded in convincing the bulk of the electorate (not you and me etc!) with myths that benefit recipients are mainly ‘scroungers’, that Labour supports benefits claimants but not taxpayers, that this is why there was a ‘deficit’. In fact most recipients are pensioners.

Changing this perception is a Sisyphean task, just denying it has not worked. So for Labour to get into power in 2015 and change perceptions by advertising and better public education, it has a mountain to climb. So yes, Polly Toynbee is right to say that Labour ‘overspending’ has been successfully blamed for the size of the national debt and that the ‘hard truth is that the Tories and their mighty press have won the battle over the writing of that history, as victors do.’

That’s why EM is not proclaiming a new socialist dawn and goodies for all – he and most Labour supporters know that he won’t get elected if he did. He has to sound tough, as does Balls. It’s maybe playing the Tories’ game but I doubt very much that Labour will be *highlighting* or hyping up benefit fraud as an issue if and when it regains power.

But I do expect Labour to reshape the welfare system. In a different way from the Tories. I certainly hope so. This task is long overdue. The system today is NOTHING like the lean one that Beveridge proposed 70 years ago. The costs today are gigantic and largely favour the better off middle classes, people are also living far longer, the poor pay far more as a proportion of their income to support it. Any government has to address this and soon. It’s about credibility!! Let’s hope it’s a Labour one that gets elected in 2015. I think if not, that we are all doomed!


Graeme Tiffany 8 June 2013, 06.34

Dan Price ought to remember Blair’s coronation. We were told we were going to get something different once the party got in, and this should be our motivation for voting. Many did, but this radical alternative never came to pass. We all know what did.

The point about universalism is that it ties us all together. Even the well off think they are getting something back. Getting rid of this principle will simply exacerbate the ‘them and us’ that has developed apace in recent years. Middle to well off folk will simply say they are getting nothing for their contributions and will be lost to the social project forever.

I was asked by a foreigner the other day why all this is happening in one of the richest countries in the world. Answers on a post card please.


Owen 8 June 2013, 12.38

“Getting rid of this principle will simply exacerbate ‘them and us'”.

The problem is, it is ‘them and us’. And that should be the starting point of this debate.


Anonymous 9 June 2013, 16.09

Chrisso,
You state that you “know from my own work sphere there are some that don’t wish to work whatever incentives are offered” which is countered by “But it’s a small minority.” This is the crux of the entire problem. Most people think, and this has been borne out by polling and anecdotal experience, that incidences of fraud from the welfare state are rife. They. Are. Not. You seem to bear this out. The fact is of over 18 million claimants in the UK there is a total of 0.7% claimant fraud across all benefits. 126,000 costing £1bn a year. The cuts being made will cost £12bn over the next 10 years. The total for DWP and claimant error – under- and over-paid benefits, and under-claimed money – is far higher. Believe me, the welfare state has always been very quick to get its money back when it has paid out too much!; not so fast when they should be paying back. Fraud from the tax payer’s pound is not down to the scroungers and skivers that the Tories and Labour – oh, what a misnamed mimic it has become! – would have us think. Please people: Spread the word. Sign the WOW Petition. Save a disabled person today! It might be one you like!


MRadclyffe 9 June 2013, 16.12

Chrisso,
You state that you “know from my own work sphere there are some that don’t wish to work whatever incentives are offered” which is countered by “But it’s a small minority.” This is the crux of the entire problem. Most people think, and this has been borne out by polling and anecdotal experience, that incidences of fraud from the welfare state are rife. They. Are. Not. You seem to bear this out. The fact is of over 18 million claimants in the UK there is a total of 0.7% claimant fraud across all benefits. 126,000 costing £1bn a year. The cuts being made will cost £12bn over the next 10 years. The total for DWP and claimant error – under- and over-paid benefits, and under-claimed money – is far higher. Believe me, the welfare state has always been very quick to get its money back when it has paid out too much!; not so fast when they should be paying back. Fraud from the tax payer’s pound is not down to the scroungers and skivers that the Tories and Labour – oh, what a misnamed mimic it has become! – would have us think. Please people: Spread the word. Sign the WOW Petition. Save a disabled person today! It might be one you like!


Margaret 9 June 2013, 17.56

The plain answer to this article is that the British public, for whatever reason, be it brainwashing by the Tory press or unwillingness to pay higher taxes to get better social benefits, simply will not vote for a Labour party which is very left-wing. I think they are wrong and shortsighted, because they will not take the long view – they want jam today! But it’s called democracy, however anyone might not like it.


Derick Tulloch 9 June 2013, 23.19

There is a mainstream political party in the UK which is prepared to defend the principles of universalism and the Welfare State.

And which is prepared to act on those principles to the best of it’s ability.

Scottish Parliament Debate on Universal Services, 17 April 2013. First speaker is John Swinney, Finance Secretary
http://www.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/scotland-22171459

“we will defend the social gains – policies such as free personal care and bus passes for our older folk – who have paid their taxes, powered our economy, raised the children, and deserve something back from society. That is what it means to be a society.

AND THE ROCKS WILL MELT WITH THE SUN BEFORE WE ALLOW TORY OR LABOUR TO TAKE AWAY THE RIGHT TO FREE EDUCATION IN SCOTLAND.”
Alex Salmond, 12 March 2011

http://www.snp.org/blog/post/2013/mar/alex-salmond-speech-snp-spring-conference

I would point readers also to the excellent work of the Reid Foundation in their Common Weal project


susan coleman 19 June 2013, 18.04

what planet does that Idiot live on, Up north there are NO jobs, everything is closing down. People are being crucified on a daily basis & he wants to put the boot in even more. please Karma strike now!because if you don’t I really really want to. grrrrr


Glenn Meredith 20 June 2013, 10.20

Tom Walker’s article ought to be required reading for those on the Left who still pursue the line that “…without [the Labour Party] there is no realistic prospect for change (or at least not in England)” Soundings 53. Editorial.page 5.
The Labour Party was in power from 1997/2010, after all and, as such, was responsible for carrying out the political, economic and ideological groundwork which laid out the conditions for the present crisis. The Kilburn Manifesto is academically exemplary, but remains blind to the elephant in the room which constitutes the greatest block to any meaningful left advance in the UK. This consists of the way by which the major trades unions financially underwrite the Labour Party. Beyond the fact that they have always “traditionally” done this there is no explanation for them doing it apart from having a taste for an incredible amount of political masochism.
The trades union link with the Labour Party, together with the vagaries created by an unreformed first-past-the-post electoral system, constitute the greatest block to any left advance in the UK (correction in England, where there is no nationalist party for the disaffected left to turn to-though this still leaves the unreformed nature of Tom Nairn’s “UKania” open to question).
To conclude, if Red Pepper wishes to be a gadfly on the left it should proclaim “End the trades unions link with Labour!” on its mast head. That most certainly would open the flood gates. However, it is also the reason why the conservatives within the trades unions and Labour Party would do their utmost to stop it happening, since it would create a movement which they could not control


Tim Mann 26 June 2013, 11.04

I give up. The things the two Eds will shy away from saying just in case someone doesn’t vote for it….
It’s the “Thick of it” come to life.
I’m reduced to voting Green AGAIN!


sean whelan 27 June 2013, 09.34

Listening to ed balls defending Osbornes decision to imcrease new jsa claiments wait from 3 days to 7 days was discouraging to say the least. We now can choose between evil tories and just bad tories (new new labour).


Rob the cripple 27 June 2013, 22.12

Miliband is poor he cannot speak, he cannot give a view, he’s really poor, Ball’s is another who has an issues when speaking but at least he does not drone on as Miliband does.

The real issues with Miliband he’s not a leader, he should never have been picked he was and he’s out of his depth.

Now he is hoping and praying he gets in not because he a good leader, he’s hoping the Tories will be so bad the public will vote him in because they have nobody else.

We had twenty years of this with Thatcher and here we are again, another twenty years out of power until what another Blair or another Thatcher.



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