Labour’s failure to oppose the Welfare Bill is craven political cowardice

This post was written by Owen on January 23, 2012
Posted Under: Labour,Society,The Welfare State,Tories

Fancy living on 62p a day? Thousands of families are going to have to do exactly that if the government’s Welfare Reform Bill becomes law, and the benefit cap comes in. Never mind the 100,000 children who’ll fall below the poverty line, or the projected 20,000 people who’ll be made homeless by it. Never mind that the spiralling cost of welfare has practically nothing to do with the behaviour of those on benefits and everything to do with the dearth of both private rented and council housing allowing profiteering private landlords to make their fortunes from tenants on Housing Benefit. Never mind that across the country there are between 5 and 6 unemployed people for every job vacancy, so trying to change the “psychology” of people in long-term unemployment (the avowed aim of the Bill) is unlikely to get very far in getting them into work while the economy’s still in the toilet. And never mind that £26,000 for a couple with three or more children (and who were almost certainly able to afford to have that many children until the financial crisis hit and drove the unemployment rate through the ceiling) really isn’t much when you’re living in a high cost area (like, say, the whole of Southeast England), and only seems generous when you disingenuously compare it with the individual – as opposed to household – income of someone in employment and don’t take into account any in-work benefits, as this innumerate moron does here.

No, none of that matters. And no, I’m not being ironic; that’s what the polls are saying. I wish they weren’t, but they are. There really is a lot of popular resentment at benefit recipients getting what they see as overly generous welfare payments. Dave Osler asks why the big three political parties (and Labour in particular, one assumes) aren’t full-bloodedly opposing the Bill and just tinkering around the edges with amendments. Polls like the one I link to above are almost certainly a big part of the answer. Labour’s response (and in particular that of Liam “are there no workhouses?” Byrne) to the Bill has been decidedly lukewarm, but if people don’t tend to take into account things like the varying cost of living in different regions of the country when they’re thinking about how generous a “fair” benefits system should be, then it takes political courage to try and get public opinion onside by talking about the real, deep-seated systemic problems which underlie the current high cost of benefits rather than simply capitulating to it. Mark Ferguson at LabourList makes a good start, but he’s not (yet) holding elected office, so it’s perhaps not so hard for him. Until the Parliamentary Labour Party regains a political backbone and realises that being Conservatives-lite isn’t going to get meaningful political change, proper opposition to bills like this within Parliament will be in short supply.

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Reader Comments

I… I… I just can’t believe it. That the party of the left should do something like this is without precedent in my memory.

#1 
Written By A Goldfish. on January 23rd, 2012 @ 11:00 pm

Where did I say this was unprecedented?

#2 
Written By Owen on January 24th, 2012 @ 10:32 am

Yes, but you ignore two key points:

First, it is a scandal that someone can receive an income of GPP 26000 per year but, due to operation of the economy and especially the housing market, still be poor.

Second, among many Tory voters there are people who judge how well off their are not by what they have, but by their “distance” from those below them. Thus these people receive gratification from the poverty and suffering of others.

#3 
Written By Ben on January 24th, 2012 @ 2:16 pm
Owain

I take your point over comparing households and individuals. It would be better to set the maximum at that of the median household income, rather than median individual level. I would also want to see an exception for a period of time to a cap for those who had paid in much more than the median over a long period of time. Part of NI is unemployment insurance, and that part should pay out, for a while, at the level you were paying in.

You state : “£26,000 for a couple with three or more children (and who were almost certainly able to afford to have that many children until the financial crisis hit and drove the unemployment rate through the ceiling)”. I’m unclear as to what you mean by this. Do you mean they could afford them when they were working? Would many of them (in high cost areas like the South-East) made choices about where to live, and how many children to have, expecting to be subsidized by other people. And do you draw a distinction between households which had at least one wage earner before the recession.

For my tuppence, I would like a.distinction between those who had been working, and have fallen on hard times, and those who have not worked for a very long time, and have no impetus to change. Once in that situation, you have to admit whatever it is the system is trying to do, it isn’t working, and you need to do something else. Can’t say I know what that is though.

#4 
Written By Owain on February 5th, 2012 @ 7:42 am

third estate of labours day

#5 
Written By gaurav kumar gautam jail road gonda on April 30th, 2012 @ 9:20 am

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