Why Frank Field is wrong on women and welfare

Frank Field told the Progress Conference that Labour should not be a feminist party and that people are attracted to a life of joblessness, reports Shelly Asquith.

I went along to the Progress annual conference this weekend anxious that I wouldn’t like some of the proposals put forward, but not expecting to be outrightly offended. The source of my offence was the session entitled ‘Welfare isn’t Working’, and namely Frank Field, one-time minister for Welfare Reform, now coalition ally. The speakers included Stephen Timms MP, shadow work and pensions minister; Cllr Claire Kober, leader of Haringey council; and Kate Green MP, former chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group.

The first topic addressed was the government’s proposals for removing people from benefits. I was concerned by Stephen Timms’s approval of the plan to move “100,000s of Incapacity Benefit claimants in to work”.

With no corresponding cures for the most immobilising of conditions, and no new jobs set aside for claimants regardless, I worry how our most vulnerable will cope with the transition.

Frank Field agreed with Timms’s comments, and added that Labour had failed to reduce the non-working number from 5 million. As the government’s ‘poverty tsar’, Field’s role is to find ways of breaking ‘dependency culture’.

This challenge is ultimately a noble one, providing claimants are offered work to go to; but the target-based, cost-cutting scheme is evidently not achieving that aim. People are losing benefits, but no alternative security is suggested.

Field later implied there was an appeal to a “life without the complications of work”. One doubts Field has ever observed the complications of checking in to his local Job Centre only to find there is nothing suited to his experience; or worse still, that it has closed down.

Claire Kobler, leader of Haringey council, was right to point out to Field that, while he may say 30% of benefit claimants do not intend to work (n.b. I have tried and failed to find evidence to back up his claim), 70% do; while 50% of them are disabled anyway.

The discussion naturally led on to the new Universal Credit, Iain Duncan Smith’s model designed to make it more profitable to work than remain on benefits. Kate Green began by addressing the fact that the system, with lack of child-care support and a household level payment scheme, will actually disincentivise women from working.

This claim is backed up by a White Paper submitted by Oxfam, which explains that:

“The likely effect will be to make work pay less particularly for lone parents and for second earners in households with children – in both cases, probably women.”

Frank Field, unsurprisingly, defended his system; he said:

“I don’t support Kate’s view.”


“Families should be supporting one another. We should not be a feminist party.”

This isn’t the first time Field has rallied against women’s rights. Just a few weeks ago, the long standing Labour MP and former Conservative Party member gave full support to Nadine Dorries’ proposals to force all women seeking abortions to receive counselling.

Field is a traditionalist: he believes it is a woman’s role to care for children (whether she is in a position to have them in the first place or not) while the husband provides for her. Previously, he has blamed a generation of “upwardly mobile very successful women” for trying to coerce young mothers into work. Presumably, his ‘hero’ Margaret Thatcher is guilty of this.

Franks Field and his government allies fail to recognise that tackling poverty and rising female unemployment does not begin by cutting public sector jobs most often done by women, or by eliminating the legal aid that defends them during divorces.

Whichever way you see it, traditionalist or not, any woman seeking to raise children while the Tory-led government carry out their cuts to housing benefit, child tax credits, pregnancy grants and childcare subsidies will unquestionably be worse off, in work or out of it.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.

18 Responses to “Why Frank Field is wrong on women and welfare”

  1. Jade Constable

    Why Frank Field is wrong on women and welfare: http://bit.ly/lyZwu2 by @ShellyAsquith

  2. Shelly Asquith

    My blog from #pac11 for @leftfootfwd: Why Frank Field is wrong on women and welfare http://bit.ly/lyZwu2

  3. Terry E Oliver

    My blog from #pac11 for @leftfootfwd: Why Frank Field is wrong on women and welfare http://bit.ly/lyZwu2

  4. Vincenzo Rampulla

    My blog from #pac11 for @leftfootfwd: Why Frank Field is wrong on women and welfare http://bit.ly/lyZwu2

  5. Adele Reynolds

    RT @leftfootfwd Why Frank Field is wrong on women and welfare: http://t.co/aBIzpNy by @ShellyAsquith > lab should be a feminist party

  6. Helen W

    “Families should be supporting one another. We should not be a feminist party.” Frank Field (on women & welfare) http://bit.ly/m05ecV

  7. Mr. Sensible

    Don’t know what on Earth Field is doing…

    BTW, can I just ask if anyone else has been having trouble accessing the blog today? I had trouble this morning, then it came back, then it went again and now it’s back. Does anyone know if the website was under maintinence or something?

  8. Ed's Talking Balls

    I’ve barely been able to view LFF over the last few days, Mr. Sensible.

  9. Hens4Freedom

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why Frank Field is wrong on women and welfare: http://bit.ly/lyZwu2 by @ShellyAsquith via @UKactivist

  10. Anon E Mouse

    What Frank Field is doing Mr.Sensible is working to change people’s lives with his work. A concept no one else in the Labour Party seems to understand with all their grandstanding and floundering as they realise what we knew all along – that Ed Miliband is a dud. It’s why he was only elected with votes from the union dinosaurs.

    At some point Labour will have to get rid of this loser and the sooner they have a complete makeover the better. There is no single politician in the party with the gravitas of John Read for example. Not one.

    Or Frank Field…

  11. Marilyn Freeman

    Why Frank Field is wrong on women and welfare: http://bit.ly/lyZwu2 by @ShellyAsquith

  12. Mason Dixon, Autistic

    The same Frank Field that never saw a failed idea on welfare reform he didn’t like?

  13. Anon E Mouse

    Mason Dixon, Autistic – Sorry I don’t know what that remark means.

    I do know that Frank Field was asked by the last Labour government to look into welfare issues (the line was to “think the unthinkable”) and when he did, the profligate, gutless government just shelved his reports.

    Frank Field, Charles Clarke, John Reid, Alan Milburn, Alan Johnson are first class politicians and there is not a single member of the PLP that can hold a candle to them.

    The only reason for this pointless article is to essentially smear Frank Field because he is choosing to work with the government which makes him able to change people’s lives by doing so. Something no other Labour MP can claim…

  14. Olivia Bailey

    great article shelly! “@ShellyAsquith: @livbailey btw! – http://t.co/fFKGtRc”

  15. Kirstin

    Ooh, how did I miss this? Good one, @ShellyAsquith http://bit.ly/k6RVIi (h/t @livbailey)

  16. London IWW

    Why Frank Field is wrong on women and welfare http://dlvr.it/T9grm | #PublicServices #Anticuts

Leave a Reply