Posts Tagged ‘Welfare Uprating bill’

Labour needs to remember how to make an argument

10/01/2013, 07:00:47 AM

by Peter Watt

So, after five hours of heated debate the government got its way and parliament voted to limit annual increases in working-age benefits to 1%, for the next three years.

Only a handful of Lib Dems rebelled.  But put aside the rights and wrongs of the argument for the moment.  Just consider the arguments used in the first big political battle of the second half of this parliament.

To be effective an argument has to be heard, resonate, be noticed and be believable.  It critically has to be understood.   I spent much of Monday and Tuesday listening to party spokespeople making their arguments in advance of and in the aftermath of the welfare vote.  I was struck by just how hard it was for Labour to get to the point and to make their argument.  The government spokespeople on the other hand seemed to get to the point quickly.  I wonder if this is why?  When you go to the respective websites and try to get a distillation of the arguments you find:

Government argument:

“Today Labour are voting to increase benefits by more than workers’ wages.  Conservatives: standing up for hardworking people.”

Labour argument:

“Labour will today challenge the government to back its plan for a compulsory jobs guarantee for the long term unemployed as new figures from the IFS show 7 million working people will be hit by the government’s ‘strivers tax’. The new report from the IFS shows that 7 million working families will lose out under the government’s real terms cuts to tax credits and other benefits. It follows Children’s Society research which shows that a second lieutenant will lose £552 a year, a nurse could lose £424 a year and a primary school teacher could lose £424 a year.  Labour will oppose the bill and call for the government to bring in a compulsory jobs guarantee, which would give people out of work for 24 months or more a job which they would have to take up or lose their benefits.”

Remember, put aside the merits of the respective arguments, and judge them on their effectiveness.


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Forget strivers vs skivers, it’s the uncosted spending that will hurt Labour on welfare

09/01/2013, 07:00:51 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Yesterday Labour voted against the welfare uprating bill after a debate in the House of Commons dominated by the four horseman of the welfare apocalypse, “scrounger,” “shirker,” “striver” and “skiver.”

These are highly charged, emotive terms, laden with implicit meaning. The focus of the debate in the run up to the vote has been on the values inherent in these words. The Tories are slapping a tax on strivers. No, Labour wants to sign a blank cheque for scroungers. Back and forth it has raged.

But amidst the sound and light about who was actually on the side of the hard working majority, the real impact on voter perceptions, and damage to Labour, has received comparatively little attention. Only yesterday, as the Tories rowed back from the sharper exigencies of their scrounger rhetoric did they alight on the most pointed attack on Labour.

Voters were already pretty clear that Labour will by and large try to protect benefits for the less well-off while the Tories are tougher on cheats. The values debate will not have altered this perception, except maybe to entrench it for both sides: the Tories cut with too much relish and Labour is more likely to fall for a hard luck story.

The one incontrovertible fact of Labour’s vote against the welfare uprating bill is that the party has now backed higher spending on benefits than the government.


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On welfare, Labour needs to be the party of work

07/01/2013, 07:59:11 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Labour debating the Conservatives on welfare is not a clash between two settled bodies of opinion. As public opinion evolves, so does internal debate within both parties. Casualties will come from “friendly fire” and the fog of war is thick.

There are those within Labour who think that George Osborne has snookered our party with the welfare uprating bill. In contrast, others think Osborne has overplayed his hand and we will be rewarded for principled opposition to the bill.

The latter are in sympathy with the rhetorical question of John Harris: If every Labour politician cannot oppose Osborne’s strivers and skivers plan in its toxic entirety, what exactly are they here for?

The former both dismiss this as naive and discount the capacity of the more nuanced opposition that Gavin Kelly has articulated and which Labour’s guarantee of a job for those out of work for 2 years is a variant of.

This guarantee seems a step away from the Harris position, which rejects absolutely the welfare uprating bill, and towards a position that argues the bill is unnecessary as there are better means of reforming our welfare system. Taking this step has the advantage of reducing the extent to which we seem to defend a discredited status quo. Equally, it will disappoint those attracted to a more visceral rebuttal of Osborne.

While there is diversity of opinion within Labour, it would be mistaken to think that the Conservatives are united. Indeed, they are at war, if a Peter Oborne piece from just before Christmas is to be believed. Soon after Christmas a cabinet minister was speaking in less than glowing terms about Iain Duncan-Smith’s universal credit. “The information technology for the new system is nowhere near ready. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.”


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Ed Milband is out of step with most voters on welfare reform

20/12/2012, 07:00:11 AM

by Peter Watt

If the economy is the central battleground of the next election then welfare reform looks like being one of the other key areas for the political combatants.  The chancellor’s Autumn statement made it pretty clear that he intends to make it a key wedge issue over the coming years.  And to make sure that we all got this, the Tories have released an online attack ad on the websites of local newspapers in marginal seats.

Click on the ad and you are asked your views on welfare reform by the Conservative party. Labour reacted with its own marginal seats campaign complete with outrage at the demonization of the poor and attempts to divide and rule between artificial notions of “strivers” and “scroungers”.

So both parties see the next election being about the cost of living; both see strategic weaknesses in the others approaches to those working on low to modest incomes and both now have drawn a line in the sand – the proposed below inflation 1% rise in most working age welfare benefits.

For the Tories this will help create a “welfare system based on fairness’” as the campaign leaflet to accompany their online ad makes clear:


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Everything else is a sideshow to economic growth

18/12/2012, 07:57:19 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Once you start thinking about economic growth, as the economist Robert Lucas famously said, it’s hard to think about anything else. The British paradox, however, is that, while almost all policy questions come back to growth, our politics so lacks serious thinking and debate on growth.

In 2008 Barack Obama was the new kid on the block, Rafa Benitez and Fernando Torres were loved in Liverpool and reviled in Chelsea, and Gordon Brown was mid-premiership. It was a long time ago. Yet the British economy remains 3 percent smaller than it was then. The economies of emerging Asia, in contrast, are 30 percent bigger.

We recovered more quickly in the halcyon days of the 1930s. We have had our first double dip recession since 1975. We may still have our first ever triple-dip recession.

We are progressively poorer in real terms as inflation persistently outpaces growth. The less cake there is to share the quicker we are to point the finger at those who did not prepare it; whether these are global coffee chains that do not pay their taxes or “shirkers” that do pull their weight.

The longer the cake takes to bake the more austerity we are promised. It was meant to last until 2015 and now until 2018. We are halfway through this parliament and we have five years of promised austerity ahead of us – as we did at the start of this parliament. If growth does not improve and neither the doctor nor the medicine are changed then the current rate of progress and inflexible strategy will have us facing another full parliament of austerity at the end of this one.

In fact, current trends have us facing endless austerity. Without growth we can cut as much as we like and not reduce the deficit. The longer this persists the more invidious the spending choices will become. Only the organs of the state remain when cuts have already gone to the bone.


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