Thursday, 17 October 2013

Labour joins the 'worker' versus 'shirker' poor bashing?

The political obsession with the 'squeezed middle' hurts the poorest. It is understandable. Whichever political party can appeal most to the middle income earners is likely to win the next election.

Sadly this is why some in the Labour party appear ready to abandon the poor. You don't win elections by being compassionate and understanding about poverty.

So, Labour's Rachel Reeves, Labour's shadow work and pensions secretary,  vows to be tougher than the Tories on benefits and force the long-term unemployed to take up 'work offers' or lose their benefits. Labour is now in the same unethically divisive  game played by the Tories, to portray the unemployed as work-shy  'scroungers' or 'benefit cheats'; it is the 'workers' versus the 'shirkers' divide.

It is an easy story to buy into. We all know (don't we?) people who are on the dole who don't look for work and live in a 'benefits culture'. There is work out there (isn't there?) if only they would get off their backsides and look for it.

Unemployment in the North East is twice that in the South East. Are we to believe that those in the North East are twice as lazy as those in the South East? That these North Easterners are work shy compared to their cousins in the South?

Now, there is a problem for the long-term unemployed. The longer the period of unemployment the harder it is to get back into the job market. Help is required. But also what is required is relevant skills, experience. what is also needed, and here is the rub, is jobs.

No doubt a bit of stick should go with any carrot, but let us not deceive ourselves. Labour's tough position is little more than political expediency. It addresses not the real problem of getting the long-term unemployed back to work. It address and at that same time panders to the misconceptions about the unemployed held by the 'squeezed middle'.

The Tories have been rocked by Labour's potential appeal to this 'squeezed middle'. The standard of living has become a major issue. It has now outstripped the economics of growth or no growth and 'double dip' recession. As the latter recedes the Tories would expect a bounce in the polls. That it hasn't yet materialised is put down to the decreased earnings of the 'squeezed middle'.

The YouGov London poll for the Evening Standard is grim reading for the Tories with intention  CON 32%, LAB 45%, LIBDEM 10%, UKIP 9%  a swing of 5.5% from Con to Lab since the general election. This is in spite of the fact that Boris Johnson polls well with 64% approval for his job as Mayor.

There isn't much any of the parties can do about earnings (is there?) so the next best thing is to blame the poor. We would all be better off if we didn't pay so much on welfare (wouldn't we?).

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