Posts Tagged ‘welfare reform’

We’ve been here before on welfare reform. Now the backlash is coming, will Labour hold the line?

19/06/2014, 01:07:25 PM

by Atul Hatwal

The much quoted definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Today, the Labour party is testing this proposition.

For the third time in seven months, Labour is attempting to re-position itself on welfare. For the third time in seven months the pre-briefing before a welfare reform speech has been about “toughness,” how Labour will cut benefits for young people and respond to public concerns on welfare spending.

We’ve been here before.

As a taster for what’s likely to come, this is what happened the first time Labour went down this road, back in November last year. James Kirkup at the Telegraph wrote a story on potential Labour cuts to benefits for under 25s if they were not in training or ‘intensively’ looking for work, based on an IPPR report and a briefing from the party. 

The backlash from the party forced an immediate denial, with Rachel Reeves tweeting “This is not and will not be our policy” “it’s not our plan” and “it is totally not my position!” Cue much relief,

These weren’t the reactions of random activists, Matthew Pennycook is the PPC in Nick Raynsford’s seat and will be an MP in 2015, Gemma Tummelty works for Ed Miliband and Mark Ferguson edits Labour List.

Take two. In January this year, Tom Newton Dunn at the Sun wrote a similar story about removing benefits for the young unemployed, which was, once again, based on another IPPR report and a briefing from the party. Cue a repeated denial from Rachel Reeves and more relief,      (more…)

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Miliband’s reckoning must also reassure

20/01/2014, 02:24:17 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“The next election”, according to an answer that Ed Miliband gave on Friday, “will be a choice between a big reckoning and steady as she goes.” There wasn’t much that Mliband understated in setting out how Britain would change with him in charge. But this was one thing. There is no steady as she goes option.

George Osborne can only make his sums add up with a much reduced role for government outside of ringfenced areas and/or further cuts for the disabled, children and the working poor. That’s not so much steady as she goes as once more into the breach, as the ship heads towards the rapids. Osborne gave the impression in 2011 that the electorate had sacrificed all that he’d ask of them. Now he asks them to keep sacrificing till 2018/19.

His ‘baseline theory’ of politics encourages this strategy. This forces Labour to choose: Match my baseline and all the tough choices that entails or don’t and accept that the full force of HM Treasury will be thrown at undermining Labour’s credibility.

Miliband’s speech was his response to Osborne’s gaunlet. Which he picked up, tossed aside and dismissed as redundant. Deficit reduction alone can’t fix our economy, he told us. Nor alone can it make hard work pay or be a vision for the country, he continued.

Osborne tried to force Miliband to talk about the size of government but he insisted on telling business what to do. His refusal to play Osborne’s game may have had something of Jarvis Cocker’s snapping of a pencil about it (See two minutes in to this). There is, however, nothing scrawny about Miliband’s attitude to business. He is as muscular in articulating what he will require of them as Osborne is unrelenting in shrinking the state. It’s not a nudge – once a buzzword in David Cameron’s circle – that Miliband wants to give business but an unavoidable prod.


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The last few weeks have shown politics at its worst: tribal, divisive and ugly

18/04/2013, 07:00:22 AM

by Peter Watt

Sometimes politics is a noble and even beautiful pursuit where words can capture a moment and inspire.  Just think of Martin Luther King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 or any one of a number of Churchill’s wartime orations.

Then there are political decisions that become once in a generation moments that end up uniting most of the country like the decision to go to war in 1939 or to create a National Health Service in its aftermath.

Other decisions remain more controversial but can still be seen as being decisive moments like the decision to join the EEC, the privatisation program of the 1980’s or the second Iraq war.  The point is that over the years politics has mattered because it involved inspiration and decisions being taken that mattered even if they were opposed.

But in the last few years it has felt that politics has mattered less and less.  Partly this is because the world has changed so that politics seems to have less influence than say global big business or the seemingly uncontrollable economic forces.

And partly it is the advent of the information age where the internet and social media has fragmented the sense of a shared experience.  The reality is that you can set your “virtual preferences” so that you can simply block that which is of little interest or irrelevant.

But politics itself also has to bear some responsibility.  In recent months, in addition to being seen as irrelevant, politics has also been ugly.  And that ugliness will have served to further drive a wedge between them-and-us; between the tiny band of political warriors and the majority more interested in fuel prices, the security of their family and Gangnam style on YouTube.


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Naiveté is a weakness in all walks of life but in politics, it’s deadly

17/04/2013, 02:08:49 PM

by Rob Marchant

Major political events which blow all other news out of the water, such as the death of Margaret Thatcher, tend to do two things. First, they make us take a step back and take stock, to ponder the grand historical sweep of things; and second, they give us a little time to do so, as the normal scheme of things is largely suspended.

So far, Miliband is having a “good war”: his Thatcher tribute speech was widely thought to be very good and, in any event, the fact that his opponents cut taxes for the well-off a fortnight ago is surely helping his approval ratings. His party is still solidly ahead of the government, although arguably still more down to the latter’s failure than Labour’s conspicuous success.

But politics is about people. About personalities. As we do the stocktaking, we now know much more about Miliband and his leadership style than we did back in 2010. As critical friends, do we not have the right – or rather, the obligation – to comment, if we think that there are weaknesses in the approach? We do.

Last week, various leftists were justifying their rapacious criticisms of Thatcher by the “two wrongs make a right” technique: recalling equally harsh words spoken by Tories on the death of Michael Foot, that same year as Miliband’s accession.


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George Osborne has a point on Philpott. Labour is dangerously out of sync with public opinion

08/04/2013, 08:41:46 AM

by Ben Mitchell

For the past 18 months or so I’ve spent quite a bit of time defending Ed Miliband: a decent man with a broad vision about how our political system needs to be changed to work for the many instead of a privileged, sheltered few. I’ve applauded the leadership’s disassociation from the worst excesses of New Labour – its authoritarianism, ruthless attacks on civil liberties, reckless liberal interventionism. He has taken on powerful elites in a way few have dared to.

But over the last few months an immaturity and amateurish streak has taken hold. Beginning with his breathtaking naivety in fully endorsing the Leveson Report in its entirety with barely any time to take in the executive summary, let alone digest all 1,987 pages. Wanting to be on the side of the victims of hacking and new best mate to UK Celebs Are Us, clouded his judgement and put Labour on the wrong side of press freedom. But at least he had public opinion on his side. Even though Leveson and press regulation will barely feature come polling day.

Not so welfare.  As Dan Hodges pointed out last week:

“The “debate” over welfare playing out over the last few days has reminded me of where we were with the debate on immigration a decade ago.”

We are in the embryonic stages, meaning hyperbole, misinformation, accusations and counter-accusations shout down the moderate and measured. Mick Philpott, doting father of 17, misogynist, benefit-scrounger extraordinaire, and now guilty of the manslaughter of six of his children puts us firmly in hysteria territory. Vile product of Welfare UK? Of course not. But a man entitled to handouts totalling up to £50,000 a year according to some reports is evidence of a benefits system intent on self-harm.

There was nothing remotely controversial about George Osborne musing that:

“There is a question for government and for society about the welfare state – and the taxpayers who pay for the welfare state – subsidising lifestyles like that, and I think that debate needs to be had.”

Every right-thinking person would have been nodding in approval. I certainly was. Then in blunders Ed Balls with the equivalent of a studs-first two-footed tackle:

“George Osborne’s calculated decision to use the shocking and vile crimes of Mick Philpott to advance a political argument is the cynical act of a desperate chancellor.”


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Our Dalit class had enough problems before Philpott

06/04/2013, 07:00:31 AM

by Kevin Meagher

So which class does Mick Philpott belong to then? I guess he would end up in the “precariat” group, described as the “poorest and most deprived” in the BBC’s new parlour game, the Great British Class Calculator.  After this last week it’s hardly a cheap shot to point out that he’s not exactly working class is he?

Hear, hear! snarks George Osborne, keen to insert himself into the furore over whether Philpott’s life on benefits caused his descent into immorality, chirruping the sentiments in Wednesday’s Daily Mail whose notorious headline labelled him a “Vile product of welfare UK.”

“There’s a question about the welfare state, and taxpayers who pay, subsidising lifestyles like that” Osborne intoned the other day, not one to let the chance to make a cheap political point pass him by. Not so much aspiration as aspersion nation.

Perhaps, then, Osborne and Paul Dacre can tell us when the rot set in? Just how many years does it take idling on benefits, as they see it, to warp someone’s values enough before a man will set fire to his own house and kill his own kids? Ten years? Twenty?

Given Philpott stabbed a former girlfriend back in 1978 – relatively speaking, years of full employment and plenty – could it simply be that he wasn’t wired-up properly to begin with and his employment status has nothing to do with his proclivity towards violence and nihilistic behaviour?

Back to class though. Twenty years ago, we talked gravely of “the underclass” to try and characterise those left high and dry by Thatcherism. You know the ones. Britain’s Dalits – our unloved and unwanted countrymen and women who long ago slipped out of the mainstream. Those whose ignorance is supposedly exceeded only by their fecklessness. The untouchables on housing estates we would gladly cross the road to avoid; that’s if we ever ventured into their neighbourhoods to begin with. Which we don’t.

The right now offers them castigation, the left, pity. But belief in true equality – in the equal worth of all – means these people should never have been allowed to sink so low in the first place. However sink they have; left with poorer health and fewer qualifications, living out a prospectless existence amid pawn shops, take-aways, drug-dealers, loan-sharks and bull mastiffs. Reduced to existing in the here and now. Too unskilled to keep pace with the modern world of work and priced out of low-skilled jobs by cheaper, immigrant labour.

No wonder they hate politicians. But given they’re not on the electoral register there’s not much they can do about it. I wonder if any of the parties knows how Mick Philpott votes? I suspect his street hasn’t seen a canvassing team in quite a while. The only time politicians meet these people is when they are pouring out tales of misfortune to them at their surgeries. Our political parties have nothing to say to those at the bottom of the pile because they want nothing from them. Labour long ago gave up trying to mobilise them.


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Erosion of universal benefits is destroying public support for the welfare state

05/04/2013, 07:00:15 AM

by Robin Thorpe

Earlier this week George Osborne stated that “this month, around nine out of 10 working households will be better off as a result of the changes we are making”.

The BBC report on this speech (before it happened, which frankly annoys me, why can’t politicians just give a speech and have it reported after the event? Why must it be released beforehand?) states that;

“This month saw the start of sweeping changes across public services including reform of the benefits system.

Mr Osborne argues that the government has had to take difficult decisions to cut the deficit and the current benefits system is fundamentally “broken”.

Changes include:

  • The introduction of a £26,000 cap on the amount of benefits a household can receive
  • A cut to housing benefit for working-age social housing tenants whose property is deemed to be larger than they need
  • Disability living allowance replaced by personal independence payment
  • Working-age benefits and tax credits uprated by 1% – a below-inflation cap

The chancellor believes the changes to benefits and tax will be fairer and help ensure that the country can live within its means and compete globally”

For all the rhetoric both in favour and against these cuts I would agree with Osborne on the limited claim that the vast majority of the public are in favour of these changes to the benefit system and do not agree with Labour or other critics of the changes. The very fact that 9 out of 10 people will purportedly be better off underlines the reason why most people agree with the changes. This, however, does not make it the right thing to do.


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The return of the confidence fairy could spell trouble for Labour

16/01/2013, 10:12:44 AM

by  Dan McCurry

The stock market has historically been a good barometer of future economic activity. It tends to be 6 months ahead of other indicators, representing the daily confidence of company bosses, either in their own investing, or in the conversations they have with institutional investors. However, the stock market has often been a poor tool for the policy maker, since it is so volatile that it is difficult to see the wood for the trees.

The FTSE100 recently broke through the 6,000 barrier. This may be volatility, but a comparison to the bond market may provide clarity.

UK gilts have been unusually expensive in the last few years. So expensive that a 10-year gilt yields less than inflation. This is partly a distortion caused by QE, but it is also indicative of capital preservation. Fear has governed the markets.

However, gilt prices have been falling recently, and the fall appears to correspond with the rise in the stock market. Are investors leaving safe-haven assets and returning to stocks? Are we witnessing the return of the confidence fairy?


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What is Labour’s message on public service reform?

02/03/2012, 08:00:03 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Step back for a moment. There’s lots going on in politics with the welfare and health reform debates raging, and it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. Now, ask yourself this question :– what’s Labour’s narrative on the Tories?

What is the common thread that runs through Labour’s positions on these two issues; ties them together and explains to voters why the Tories are wrong.

In politics it’s easy to lurch from issue to issue and get sucked into the detail of the day to day battle. Like a primary school game of football there’s a scrum of politicos, journalists, bloggers and tweeters charging around the Westminster pitch en masse chasing the day’s story.

But out there in the real world, voters aren’t players in the micro-drama of news cycle politics. They aren’t interested in the minutiae that concerns the political class, life’s too short. They are spectators, with at best a passing interest in the game on the pitch.

The majority will have opinions on issues like health or welfare reform but what matters most is how a party’s various policies combine in a to give a clear idea of what they stand for, and equally importantly, why the other side are the wrong choice.

The big picture.

So back to the question, what’s Labour’s narrative to frame the Tory picture?


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Labour must go further, faster on welfare reform

21/02/2012, 07:00:16 AM

by John Woodcock

The workfare row of the last few days may have exposed the shambolic nature of the government’s work experience scheme, but Messrs’ Cameron, Duncan Smith and Grayling may nevertheless view the fury it is generating as manna from heaven.

For the heated debate over whether or not placements in supermarkets were voluntary or obligatory, permanent or temporary, and exploitative or not, risks giving a false impression that there is a substantial and coherent government programme to tackle unemployment.

There is not. It is right to be angry about the millions out of work who are being failed by this Tory-led government; but so far, what ministers are failing to do should make us angrier than the schemes, however flawed, they are attempting to establish.

Welfare minister Chris Grayling was clearly delighted to take to the airwaves and wind up the rhetoric in the knowledge that every protest he provokes diverts attention from the real scandal: namely, that this Tory-led government is doing far too little to get people back to work, not too much.

The charge sheet of inaction on welfare is growing longer alongside the spiralling numbers of jobless and continued failure to return the economy to growth so businesses can create more jobs. Ministers have set their face against financing extra job opportunities for young people by repeating the tax on bankers’ bonuses; they axed the future jobs fund and have belatedly replaced it with something less extensive; and there are already dangerous signs that their flagship work programme could fail to help sufficient people off the sick because of problems in the contracts agreed with private and voluntary sector providers.

In assessing what is happening now, it is worth dwelling on just how much damage to families and whole communities was inflicted by the last Conservative administration’s failure to act on welfare.

On top of the appalling legacy of long-term youth unemployment, areas like Barrow and Furness still bear the scar of welfare dependency inflicted when Conservative ministers tried to mask the true level of joblessness by parking many thousands of able people on the sick and leaving them to rot. Nothing was asked of them, and no help was given to get back to work. Those people dumped on incapacity benefit were the forgotten millions, sentenced by the Tories to a life of quiet despair.

But in truth, Labour let them down too; we should have spoken up for people trapped on sickness benefit sooner and asked more of them alongside increased offers of help.


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