The title of Liam Byrne’s speech kinda exposes what Labour thinks of people on benefits… They need to be disciplined through fiscal responsibility. But discipline is the main thrust of this article. Byrne et al probably wants to engage in some sadistic role play in punishing the poor. Funny…. isn’t it, they don’t want to discipline the banking system, do they?!
This speech apparently maps out Labour’s stance on Social Security for the next election. But in reality it says little what we don’t know already. How are you meant to peddle Labour’s policy on the door step (that’s if you wanted to in the first place)? Overall, the speech is establishment friendly yet a tad confusing because who exactly is Byrne trying to appeal to? It is couched in neutral language, with the exceptions towards the bedroom tax where he argues it should be “dropped and dropped now”… The political ideology of the bedroom tax is about breaking up social housing and the majority of those voters are Labour. And Labour knows that.
We are under 2 years away from the election. Labour has a narrow lead, and a soft one at that as it could evaporate over night. And that lead needs to be hardened up therefore being an obstacle to the Tories. Not Tory-lite… but an alternative. That’s why Labour needs to have a clear and well-defined policy on Social Security. But, alas, it doesn’t. It’s easy to finger wag, it easy to blame people for their predicament and they don’t care whether the stench of the Dickensian is getting stronger. This moralistic and deeply patronising outlook has always existed in Labour, deeply ingrained in the Fabians (I mean, that is where James Purnell originated from), for example. Yet if you asked them to wag even their little finger at some powerful rich tax evading individual they are more likely to run and hide. It’s an easy game blaming the powerless. The thing about society is that people should be treated equally but as we know this isn’t the case certainly we see this when someone can’t work for a variety of reasons (language used by politicians is “won’t work”) and end up on benefits they become less of a citizen, even more so now with the constant demonisation and vilification.
People are getting poorer, food banks are on the rise, people facing evictions and so on. Byrne, like all opportunistic lazy right-wing politician, will emphasise the overpayments and fraud in the benefit system BUT woefully ignore the underpayments and unclaimed benefits, which also go into the billions (£12.5bn). People are losing out substantially on money they are entitled to but does Byrne mention that? No.
He mentions Universal Credit which is sinking even before its been rolled out.
Universal Credit is a good idea in principle but the implementation is a disaster.
We all want this project to succeed, so today I am writing to DWP to ask that cross party talks begin with civil servants so that we can see exactly how bad things are and what’s needed to fix them.
But it’s overall not a good idea. There are monumental problems with the IT structure and people are not necessarily online as that’s how they will have to claim. Currently, claiming for a benefit you can ring up the DWP and they will ring you back but unfortunately that’s changing too. Again, not everyone is online. Some people have barely enough food let alone have the cash to pay for Broadband. As Richard Murphy argues on the connected issue on the low take up of benefits:
Will Universal Credit reduce that gap? I can’t see how, especially when access to the credit is dependent on making an online application which far too many who have entitlement to receive it will not be able to do so.
I spend a lot of time talking about the tax gap, but this benefits gap is as worrying and like the tax gap, I fear nothing is really being done to solve it.
Byrne fails to critique the political use of the social security system. For example, JSA and ESA are punitive in nature even when as a claimant you start complying with your “conditionality”… You do not get paid for many weeks afterwards. There is of course the cruelty involved and the inherent unfairness of administrative punishment as opposed to judicial punishment. The wider political picture is that this is the expression of the dishonest, culture of dependency view of state provided social security. This view now represents the establishment view of social security. In this view the welfare state itself breeds a culture of dependency in a feckless and irresponsible underclass. Mick Philpott was taken as an exemplar of such an underclass individual. This was despite the Philpott household consisting of two working households that were anything but under-occupying their council house.
What this ideology tries to distract from is that rises in social security spending are linked to the economic cycle, serious ill health and growing old. These are things that are beyond the control of the individual. Punishing the poor helps this distraction. Punishment of the poor helps this distraction and the distraction that is needed from the economic mess caused by neo-liberal financialisation.
And Byrne’s speech says nothing about getting out of the financial mess….