Sunday, 9 June 2013

Labour disappoint on welfare. It is time to speak up for the poor.

Recent pronouncements on welfare by Ed Miliband and Ed Balls are disconcerting and disappointing. It is time the truth was put to the public on benefits. The government has been allowed to 'win' the presentation just as they fail to win the argument. They have succeeded in selling the image of 'scroungers', of 'shirkers versus strivers'. Sadly now Labour appears with the same message. 

There was a moment when Labour spoke up and Miliband put the case that the majority of those receiving benefits work, and work hard for too little reward. Now they appear to have abandoned that case. For the truth is that it isn't hard working people who have become 'welfare dependent'. The truth of it is that it is businesses, many of which pay insufficient taxes in the UK, who have become dependent on subsidised low pay. 

A 'living wage' must be at the heart of the alternative to the government's attack on the poorest. Labour should be putting that case. It isn't complex economics that prevents fair pay; it is bad economics. It is the economics of subsidised labour. The Tories always champion 'free markets', yet allow an unfair and skewed market in labour. The British people will respond to a campaign for 'fair pay for a fair days work'. It is the flip side of the 'scroungers' coin. For the poor in Britain, for too long it has been a 'heads I win, tails you lose' economy. This is why the poor have become poorer. This is why they are bearing the greatest burden of the failed capitalist economy. 

Labour must speak up for the poor. It would be easy not to. There aren't that many votes in doing so. The government have been allowed to 'win' the war on benefits. The recent study by the Rowntree Foundation shows that more people are inclined to blame individuals for their  poverty than to consider societal problems as the cause.

Two-thirds (66%) of the public, for example, are willing to believe that child poverty relates to the characteristics and behaviour of parents, compared to the 28% who say it is the result of broader social issues.

Even among Labour supporters there is an increasing view that welfare recipients are undeserving (from 21% in 1987 to 31% in 2011) and that the welfare state encourages dependency – 46% say if benefits were not as generous, people would learn to stand on their own feet, up from 16% in 1987.

Harold Wilson once said that the Labour movement is a crusade or it is nothing. We need that sense of crusade. Poverty in Britain is increasing. This we cannot tolerate. No fair and just society should  allow it. The government talks of fairness in its benefits reform, but hitting the poorest hardest is not fair. The poor are losers in good times and bad. The rich are winners in good times and bad. We need a new social priority. Labour has done little to set the agenda. It is afraid of its own shadow. But the argument can be won, if only it is put.

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