Thursday, 19 June 2014

Miliband and the IPPR

The IPPR are a well connected think tank. As I noted in a response to an earlier iteration of their current proposals, they are guaranteed a good spread in the Telegraph, the Guardian and the New Statesman. This time they have prepared the ground more thoroughly and got Miliband well on board before they launched their report.

Not that it's much better than before. As befits an organisation whose largest funders are the JP Morgan Chase Foundation they carefully, compendiously (the report runs to 280 pages) and on the whole quite accurately analyse a problem before coming up with solutions that leave everything just the same or worse. No root cause fails to be overlooked, no powerful interests are at any risk of being challenged, concentrations of wealth and power can breathe again. The IPPR have done their job and ruled out any radical change at all, while covering their reactionary proposals with a convincing patina of concern and engagement.

If there is a theme to this report, and Labour's accompanying proposals, it is that if poor people want  better services, or any other improvements, they can damn well pay for them themselves. If benefits for young people are a mess - and they are - then young people and their families are going to lose all current entitlements to get something better. If Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) is set at a laughably low level any improvement is going to have to come from other people on JSA. If Housing Benefit, instead of going on inflated rents, is going to be diverted to house building, then current tenants are going to have to meet the bill. Greater equality in incomes it seems (they ignore inequality of wealth almost completely) is an outmoded and unnecessary aim, compared to the truly significant "equality in social relations" (presumably the sort of equality Anatole France had in mind: "the law in its majestic equality forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets and to steal bread")On which basis the IPPR proposes to reduce incomes for the poorest families to further their equality in social relations.

There are three concrete proposals from the report that Labour have picked up on. The first is a unified 'youth allowance' for people aged 18-21, replacing JSA paid to the young people themselves, and also replacing Child Benefit (CHB)and Child Tax Credit (CTC) paid to their families when they stay in education past 18. This youth allowance will be means tested on parental income in the same way as student grants and loans - and it will be conditional on the young person undergoing some kind of continuing education or training. (The IPPR report recommends extending these proposals to disabled young people by removing their entitlement to Employment Support Allowance (ESA) as well but the Labour announcements are silent on that - it may have been a step too far, at this stage, for Miliband).

It is the extension of means testing to young unemployed people's families that is nastiest here. There is already a difficult transition for any family when a young person leaves education and benefits and tax credits for them stop. These proposals will make that transition far worse and multiply the numbers of young people for who there is no provision at all.

And how is this 'training' to be provided? What happens if it breaks down for any reason? There are currently, according to the IPPR report, 230,000 young people not in education, employment or training (NEET) who do not receive any benefits at all. The one certainty from Labour's proposals is that total will rise sharply. More hunger, more hardship.

And all unnecessary because all that is required is to amend the JSA rules to allow young people to undertake education and training, and to make that training available. But that wouldn't allow Miliband to strike his radical, cost-cutting poses at the expense of poor families and their children.

The second proposal that Labour have adopted is a futile attempt to make JSA less utterly unattractive to a small minority. There will be an extra £30pw in the contributory version of JSA only, for six months, for anyone becoming unemployed who has paid at least five years national insurance contributions, plus some help with mortgage interest payments. This will actually help rather few. If you were self employed your contributions don't count for JSA. If you're in rented accommodation the extra JSA will be largely cancelled out by reduced housing benefit. If you have children, similarly, you will probably lose most of the extra through reduced Tax Credits. All this will be funded by excluding anyone with less than 5 years contributions from contributory JSA.

As always the real purpose here is ideological. It is a half-hearted attempt to respond to the relative popularity of contributory benefits. Too little, too late. The means testing of just about everything has ensured that few will actually benefit significantly from this change; and if they are well off enough not to be caught be means testing, £30pw will not be significant enough to change attitudes.

Meanwhile the biggest cut to the contributory benefits system - the time limiting of contributory ESA to 12 month from April 2012 - goes unmentioned and unresolved. A supposed insurance scheme that provides no long term help with an acquired disability or incapacity is not a functioning scheme at all and Labour's attempt to play on a memory of a time when there was such a scheme will get them no credit.

Thirdly Labour like the idea of giving local councils - the largest ones at any rate - control of their Housing Benefit budget so that they can divert money saved from that budget into housebuilding. But how do councils save the money in the first place? IPPR has some fanciful proposals, like bulk buying accommodation, but will any local authority resist the temptation to save by restricting still further the Housing Benefit paid to current tenants?  Absent the political will to take on landlords and banks (who will lend the money for any new developments) all that will result will be a few more unaffordable "affordable" homes.

There are a few unobjectionable proposals in the report - like extended paternity leave and more free child care. These will not happen. They propose cutting winter fuel payments for pensioners to fund enhancements to social care but Labour, I predict, will make the cut without the enhancement.

But Miliband and the IPPR make fitting partners, even if they don't agree on every detail. They share a common root to their politics in their cowardice. They do not dare speak the truth to anyone, let alone to power. They do no dare to mention the rich. They do not dare to challenge corporate power. The only proposal they can make is to make the poor pay for poverty which is what they they have done today.