Progressives should back Ed Miliband’s welfare proposals

Working class voters, who the left is supposed to champion, want a fairer and more contributory welfare system.

Working class voters, who the left is supposed to champion, want a fairer and more contributory welfare system

Labour leader Ed Miliband will today set out plans to replace out-of-work benefits for around 100,000 18-to-21-year-olds and replace them with a means tested payment dependent on attending training.

Miliband will also announce plans to make the welfare system more contributory, with people able to claim a higher Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) rate of £71 a week once they have paid national insurance for five years as opposed to two.

The move towards a more contributory system is designed to bring the UK more in line with other European economies, where the contributory element tends to be greater than in the UK. The plan to move some young people off JSA, which would affect around seven out of 10 18-to-21-year-olds currently on the benefit, aims to incentivise them to seek training.

Miliband will say that Labour must “address the long-standing pressures on work, family and people’s sense of fair play that has been piling up for decades”:

“Our country continues to confront a fiscal situation the like of which we have not seen for generations, the result of a financial crash the like of which none of us has ever seen.” 

“We cannot just hope to make do and mend, and we cannot borrow and spend money to paper over the cracks.”

Most interesting perhaps will be the reaction of sections of the Labour party to today’s announcement, most notably the left.

In the past, ‘tough’ sounding announcements on welfare have been greeted unenthusiastically by many activists who interpret it as the leadership pandering to the Daily Mail and other sections of the right-wing press.

And there have been times in the past when this has undoubtedly been true. However it would be a mistake to view today’s announcement as a sop to the right.

Indeed, in attempting to make the welfare system more contributory, Ed Miliband is actually pitching directly to Labour’s working class base, which has long wanted the party to reform the system so that those who work hard see the most benefit.

Despite many popular perceptions, working class voters are the most enthusiastic proponents of welfare reform – almost half believe that if benefits are cut it will help people stand on their own two feet.

It isn’t only working class voters who want the system reformed, either. According to a YouGov poll for IPPR, 78 per cent of people believe the benefits system is failing to reward those who have worked and contributed to it.

This doesn’t mean that Labour should pander to the country’s most regressive instincts on welfare, but it does mean that progressives must recognise the sense of unfairness prevailing in many working class households.

Yes, the left should always push back against the demonisation of people on benefits , but equally important is to remember that a life on benefits is a huge waste of a person’s potential. There is absolutely nothing left-wing about that.

Today’s announcement is also important in the context of an increasingly disenfranchised Labour core vote. Some argue that Labour should forget about blue collar voters and instead concentrate on keeping the support of liberal and ethnic minority voters.

This would be a mistake, however, for as Luke Akehurst recently put it, “Labour’s strength and resilience has been because of the distinctive nature of the party as a party rooted in a class, the working class, and organisationally linked to it via the trade union link.”

It would also be electorally foolish, for as Akehurst adds, “this isn’t the basis of either the much discussed 40 per cent strategy or even of a 35 per cent strategy, but of a 20 per cent strategy”.

It is important to view today’s welfare announcement in this context, but also to contrast it with vindictive Tory policies such as the bedroom tax and the removal of housing benefit for under-25s.

Working class voters, who the left is supposed to champion, want a fairer and more contributory welfare system. Ed Miliband and Rachel Reeves appear to understand that, and today’s announcement appeals to this desire for welfare reform without abandoning any of Labour’s best traditions.

Follow James Bloodworth on Twitter

56 Responses to “Progressives should back Ed Miliband’s welfare proposals”

  1. PoundInYourPocket

    Universalism only works where you can raise sufficient tax as you have to spread it acoss the whole population for it to reach those that need it. Political parties will always offer tempting tax cuts to get themselves elected so the pot of money for redistribution will always be under downward pressure. Hence I would target that limited pot of money at those in most need. I would certainly like to see a Basic Income Gaurantee for each citizen, but can you imagine trying to get elected on that ticket as the costs are huge. It is purely because of the increasing meanness in society that I think Universality is becomming unaffordable, although I remain open-minded on the issue.

  2. Leon Wolfeson

    Again, you’re espousing *pure* Tory ideology there. The only “unaffordable” is the unaffordablility of continuing to rest the tax base on the poor, rather than taxing where the money has been moving.

    Austerity creates the “need” for austerity, especially when it slashes money-saving measures.

    Changing that means taxing capital, that means shutting down tax havens and working with other countries on making companies pay a reasonable amount of tax, that means rent caps (and council houses), means capping energy company profits, means investing in money-saving measures…and…and…left-wing policies!

  3. Peter

    Yeah your right it is is ridiculous re the £15 a week. As for the £72.35 I could not recall the exact figure, which I should of considering is was living on it till just the other day when I started a temporary job. Mind you till my first pay comes in 2 weeks I am still living on it. Call centre work – just out of training – hoping it is not too soul crushing.

  4. Peter

    correction £15 a week LESS

  5. Masu

    Kids dont vote- and 18 to 21 is the lowest demographic by a long way.
    So this means a safe target, minimal vote losses and it helps to appease the Daily Mails’ readership (Comfortably well off, bored, seeking things to hate) who Labour seem to want to appeal to, ever since Blair.
    Poor show by Labour.
    But even reaching for the vote from these idiots actually makes things worse- some people believe the justification used, and of course it all adds to the underlying media driven hype that benefits=scroungers, rather than the more true benefits=appalling job market conditions.

  6. George Laird

    Dear All

    I don’t see Ed Miliband kicking into the poor helping his election campaign.

    Of course people want a fairer welfare system, the trouble is, punishing the poor isn’t fairness, unless it has been reclassified.

    Miliband just another little rich boy playing with people’s lives.

    Why vote Labour is a question many people will be asking themselves in 2015.

    Yours sincerely

    George Laird
    The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University

Leave a Reply