Tough on Welfare, tough on the causes of welfare; it’s not the poor!

The new stars of Miliband’s reshuffle Rachel Reeves and Tristan Hunt both made speeches/interviews over the weekend and they have caused wide dismay in the Labour Party or at least in the Deptford Bridge Kremlin. Mind you not sure what we were expecting. Reeves’ speech reported here in the Guardian, has allowed herself to be quoted, and thus allow Labour’s welfare policies to be summarised as “Tougher then the Tories”.  One of the reasons Reeves was promoted and Liam Byrne sacked is that Byrne behaved as if he wanted to compete with the Ian Duncan Smith in a ‘being a shit competition’. Even if we want to be tougher, which the vast majority of the Labour Party don’t, no-one will believe us and since now we are now committed to repealing the bedroom tax and converting benefits into bricks, we have a different story to tell.

Sunny Hundal writes in his open letter published in  the ‘Statesman, says, with both eloquence and economy,

…and writer George Lakoff (the author of Don’t Think of an Elephant) toured London and made a point that some campaigners have been making here for years: adopting your political opponent’s language doesn’t neutralise your disadvantage, it cements their advantage as the centre of gravity shifts in their direction

It’s one of the things I was trying to say in my “If Only” article. Hundal also criticises Blair’s “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of Crime”, which “If Only” also saw as a totemic slogan for triangulation. I am less sure.

Steve Hilditch, at Redbrick, overcomes his self-confessed instinct to ultra-loyalty also picks up the questions of language and political positioning while suggesting that there is hope in the policy, that a jobs guarantee, a fair benefits cap, a fair presentation of Labour’s record and the extraordinary, I’d say malevolent incompetence of Ian Duncan Smith are all factors that can bring voters to Labour, but, he says,

Saying you will be ‘tougher than the Tories’ when their policies are vicious and punitive is simply unacceptable and challenges my normally acute sense of loyalty.

I agree with the Hundal and Hilditch, and firmly believe that those who want a benefit system that gives people a helping hand in time of need are still a majority.

Labour’s programme will be based on a macro-economic policy that creates the high wage jobs that will allow us to pay our way. This means investing in the skills of tomorrow, and planning for growth not austerity. Job Seeker’s allowance, or Unemployment Benefit as it was once called, should be an insurance, and just as Labour’s policy on housing benefit is to build houses, Labour’s policy on poverty should be to create well paid jobs that people want to do, underpinned by minimum wage legislation and a public commitment to a living wage.

The truth is that in the Tory’s economy, the jobs don’t exist for the unemployed and the smaller houses don’t exist for the victims of the bedroom tax. It is this that needs to change.

Bordon Job Centre

Once the jobs exist, people should be helped to find and get to work. Work experience is one thing, working for benefits is another, and unacceptable.  As with immigration, the Tories are trying to make being unemployed, or just poor, unpleasant, the proposal for daily attendance, for full time unpaid 6 month work placements, and the use of vouchers  are punishments not attempts to help people re-enter work. None of it addresses the issue of low pay, that families with two wage earners can’t afford to live in today’s Britain is the scandal.

I can compromise on a benefit’s cap, which needs to be sensitive to local needs, including housing costs and supply, and everyone agrees that those that can work should work; we shouldn’t want to be tougher than the Tories because they are looking to punish the poor. It’s a return to the failed and rejected idea that to get the poor to work harder, you take money away from them, while to get the rich to work harder you give them more (through income tax cuts). Furthermore,  I would consider making unemployment benefit contributory again (guess who removed that linkage) so that the asymmetry of the investment is reduced; it ceases to be a gift or dole.

Public policy needs compassion, and an economic policy context that reduces the demand for social security expenditure. I think that we should misquote Blair on crime, and propose to be,

Tough on welfare, Tough on the causes of welfare,

Because the poor aren’t the cause.

Miliband’s slogan from his conference speech,

a race to the top not the bottom

should be the test we measure welfare policy against; the Tories fail it, and we shouldn’t want to match that failure.

ooOOOoo

Mark Ferguson commented on Labour List, an article called 5 things we learned from the hunt/reeves interviews today

I’ll return to education another time, but public policy needs to be developed, Gove’s “Return to the Future” is fantasy. Academies and boy’s own history lessons are the answers to nothing worth solving, but the creation of a high knowledge using and generating, and fair economy is.

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