Monday, 20 January 2014


Rachel Reeves in her big speech on welfare claims stirringly that  

“it’s only by getting more people into work and creating better paid and more secure jobs, that we’ll tackle the drivers of rising benefits bills and ensure the system is sustainable for the long term.”

Yet what she is proposing will lock low pay and insecurity in work firmly into the system for generations to come. By compelling millions of unemployed people - especially young people - into six month  miserably paid half jobs on pain of destitution, Labour is proposing permanently to reshape the lower end of the jobs market as a guarantee of a low wage, insecure future. 

If this is an improvement on the Tory Community Work Programme - which from April offers the same deal for no wages at all - that merely serves to make the proposals acceptable to many more employers - large and small, public sector and private - who will leap on this opportunity to substitute publicly subsidised labour for real jobs. No cost and no labour discipline problems either - this is to be outsourced to the DWP who can reduce workers to penury with no protection through their sanctions regime.

This is Labour’s flagship proposal, their big idea. We can safely ignore their small idea - a few weeks enhanced dole for people coming out of long term jobs - as the trivial gesture it is. What is important though is what they are not saying:

  • no proposals for relaxation of the sanctions regime, instead its extension to many more people in make work schemes
  • no restoration of emergency help from the social fund
  • no reform of the work capability assessment for sickness benefits which drives disabled and chronically ill people onto reduced benefits and into unsuitable work. These first three omissions alone guarantee a thriving future for food banks
  • no halt to the abolition of DLA and its gradual replacement by Personal Independence Payment, which is terrorising disabled people under pension age
  • no halt to the implementation of Universal Credit which will extend the DWP’s punitive regime to millions more workers
  • no restoration of any of the myriad other cuts to in-work and out of work benefits implemented since 2014; instead the attack on the living standards of the poorest people has become permanent.

There has always been a large element of continuity between Labour and Tory governments over welfare but never more so than now. The rhetoric is different but the substantial aim of enforcing British capital’s requirements remains the same.  The danger is that many people appalled by the Tories’ constant scrounger attacks will climb aboard with Reeves’ more moderately framed proposals as a welcome relief.

We need to be putting forward a more radical proposal. The Welfare State as is - the new old Poor Law providing subsidy for employers and landlords, degradation and privation for claimants - cannot simply be defended. As a minimum an unconditional basic income - for everyone rich and poor - is a transitional demand which will abolish existing welfare and free millions of workers from the control of the state and employers.