The dawn of hope?

?by Nick Pearce

Ed Miliband used his speech yesterday to bring the contributory principle back into the heart of Labour thinking on welfare reform, which got Frank Field and Labour bloggers very excited.

Although the Labour leader didn’t mention it, it was fitting that he referred to the principle of contribution this year, since 2011 is the centenary of the great 1911 national insurance act, which brought in unemployment and sickness insurance (those were the days when a progressive alliance really did achieve bold reforms).

It is less clear, however, that the contributory principle can really serve to underpin a modernisation of the welfare state for the twenty first century. It only now covers around 10% of working age benefits, and it is being scaled back further under the government’s plans to cut employment support allowance.

Where it still has real purchase is in respect of the basic state pension, for which the earnings link has been restored. But even here fairness and equality for women have demanded an extension of the notion of contribution to cover caring activities, as well as work (while the government plans a single-tier flat rate state pension for which a contributory record would not strictly be necessary).

Moreover, it is not possible simply to withdraw public services or benefits for people who are in need. Children must be housed and educated, whatever their parents have done. Article 3 of the human rights act also places a floor under the welfare state, preventing people from suffering humiliating and degrading treatment through destitution.

Nonetheless, reciprocity is vital to public support for the welfare state and the strength of community solidarity. So Labour is not on the wrong track. But it needs to think about the notion of contribution in broader terms: not just to embrace caring and community activities, but to mean reciprocity across a range of services and entitlements, whether funded by general taxation, National insurance or hybrid state-private insurance policies.  Social housing is an obvious candidate for reform in these terms, as Miliband intimated (although need as well as contribution must figure in social housing policy, and the supply of housing must be expanded regardless). Post-Dilnot, social care could become another. Other services – such as childcare – can be seen as part of the social contract, even if earned entitlement does not mediate access to them; after all, the NHS is hugely popular precisely because it guarantees universal access based on need, not worth or desert.

By talking about responsibility from top-to-bottom of society, Miliband has also refused to allow this debate to be focused on the poorest alone. While right-wing think-tanks and others want social justice to be reduced to what happens to an “underclass”, Labour’s leader is keeping the whole of society in view (on which I have more to say in the forthcoming edition of IPPR’s house journal). Quite right.

Nick Pearce is director of IPPR.

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3 Responses to “The dawn of hope?”

  1. AmberStar says:

    I think working people would like:

    1. Better statutory redundancy provision;
    2. Some extra money for contributory over non-contributory JSA;
    3. To be entitled to some money for mortgage interest relief/ housing benefit whilst on contributory JSA. To not be entitled to this, when non-contributory JSA claimants are entitled, seems very unfair.

    Better provision for working people, as outlined above, would have to be paid for by increasing NIC (either employer, employee, both) &/or by reducing the entitlement of other benefit recipients. It’s a tough one – but I think Labour must have some specific, costed policies in this area.

    I think better redundancy provision could get lots of attention & actually might not cost much. It’s too cheap for employers to lay people off & working people get too little when they are made redundant.

  2. anton karidian says:

    Well done to Ed for plagiarising Ivan Lewis’s Progress speech.

  3. Robert says:

    Well another good solid new labour article, Milibands Labour parties speech was poor lots about welfare reforms and a quick mention on bankers and the rich, well would not like to upset Blair boy with his millions, made off the back of a lie for war would we.

    If you bothered to look at what Hutton and his Tory mate Frank Field are now doing is again Blairite and new labour which fits in perfectly with the Tories.

    I do not mind Labour having a Welfare reforms but once you hear the things like the Blind should not get benefits because well they are only blind, one idiot said to me look at Blunkett, and I replied yes look at him, a blind person gets about £137 a week in benefits, while Blunkett gets an extra £20,000 a year on top of a good wage, on top of his expenses for being blind so he can hire a helper or shove the money into his pocket.

    A person with no legs is not disabled because he now has a wheelchair, yes and they have just been blown off and he loses his penis his bladder, do not worry he has tubes to do that.

    You should look at the descriptor of the New Labour WCA work capability test which will see a person dying of cancer who has more then six months left to live being told you can work it’s better for you.

    The best place for labour at the moment is where they are, we the disabled might be able to do something with the Tories, we could not do sod all with Brown, as he would run like the rat he was to Cameron asking him to back him something Brown did very often.

    I think people like your self who write this crap needs to take a long hard look at welfare, I paid my NI stamp for thirty years mate.

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