Look left: Trident, unemployment and the benefit cap

James Bloodworth looks back at the week’s politics, including our progressive, regressive and evidence of the week.

Nuclear weapons 2

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• On Monday chief secretary to the treasury Danny Alexander set out the Lib Dem position on Trident.

Alternatives to Trident do exist and Britain should “step down the nuclear ladder”, Alexander said, adding that Trident was the “last unreformed bastion of cold war thinking”.

Nick Clegg responded by saying that he wanted to see a “fact-based debate” on Trident:

“It clearly shows that there are options for our country that do not simply involve us sticking to the same strategic positions that were taken in the cold war,” said Clegg.

This week Left Foot Forward looked at some of the reasons for scrapping Trident, including the cost, the risk of encouraging further nuclear proliferation, as well as the fact that Britain could never actually use such weapons.

• Unemployment decreased by 57,000 between March 2013 and May 2013 to 2.51 million, with the unemployment rate now at 7.8 per cent, Wednesday’s labour market statistics revealed.

This was welcomed by the government, but it is worth treating the figures with a degree of skepticism as they do not take underemployment and flimsy definitions of self-employment into account.

There is also the elephant in the room: stagnant pay. As Richard Exell of the TUC puts it:

“Most commentators now accept that these positive results are linked to what is happening to earnings for the great majority of workers who don’t receive massive bonuses.”

• A cap on the total amount of benefits that people can receive began rolling out across England, Wales and Scotland on Monday.

The cap applies to those aged 16 to 64 and means that couples and lone parents will no longer receive more than £500 a week, with single people limited to a maximum of £350 a week.

The problem, however, is that the cap tackles a real problem from the wrong end. We, the taxpaper, are very often not subsidising claimants at all, but rather paying housing benefit to private landlords and topping up the wages of employees who are on the receiving end of poverty pay from their employers.

Progressive of the Week:

This week Andy Burnham had to face down Tory attempts to blame the Labour Party for the widespread failings in 14 NHS trusts.

In an impassioned performance in the House of Commons, Burnham said he was “fed up” with suggestions that he was partly to blame because of decisions he took as health secretary.

This should be welcomed, for the Tories are clearly aiming to turn the scandal into a larger indictment of the principle of free healthcare. Burnham appears to grasp the gravity of the situation more than most.

Regressive of the week:

Tory MEP Daniel Hannan had a piece in this week’s Telegraph in which he claimed the left had “lost its moral compass on welfare”.

The article was riddled with errors, such as a claim by Hannan that social security spending is rising as a consequence of child benefit and jobseekers’ allowance claims, rather than due to costs associated with pensions and (in-work) tax credits.

Hannan also repeated the claim that there are families with “three generations out of work” who are claiming benefits. In reality not a single case has been found of three generations that have never worked.

Evidence of the Week:

Figures released today by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the rate of inflation has increased to 2.9 per cent in June, up from 2.7 per cent in May.

This represents a 14-month high, and further squeezes the real earnings of workers who have seen pay freezes and in some instances pay cuts over recent years.

This graph shows just how much employee earnings have been squeezed by inflation since the Tories took office.

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