Labour’s untenable position on social security and disability

Controversy rages about Liam Byrne and Labour’s developing position on social security reform as indicated in articles in the Daily Mail and The Guardian.

 

Controversy rages about Labour’s developing position on social security reform as indicated in articles in the Daily Mail and The Guardian, writes Declan Gaffney

In the Mail, a source “close to Liam Byrne” says:

“Decent Labour voters see their neighbours lie about all day and get benefits while they are working their socks off, and say, “Why should I vote Labour when they let this  happen?”.”

While in the Guardian, Byrne writes that William Beveridge:

“…never foresaw unearned support as desirable.”

For Sue Marsh, this is a betrayal of disabled claimants who are faced with massive cuts to sickness and disability benefits under the coalition’s welfare reforms.

She writes:

“You talk of “unearned support” Liam… We know about the hundreds of thousands terrified about what happens to those who CANNOT earn support.

“Until recently, we believed you gave it freely.”

Sunny Hundal, however, writes:

“Labour ministers have deliberately avoided mentioning disabled people in their rhetoric, and Liam Byrne explicitly attacks cuts to disability benefits in his article.

“They are not talking about disability benefits here.”

So who is right? Unfortunately, both are. Labour is trying to run with the hare (defending disabled claimants) while hunting with the hounds (attacking those who ‘spend a lifetime on benefits’). The problem is that these two groups are very hard to distinguish, because long-term benefit receipt is dominated by disability.

The evidence comes from the benefit system itself.

As Chart 1 shows, 57 per cent of all long-term working age benefit claims (running for five years or more) are among people entitled to Disability Living Allowance – the benefit which compensates people for additional care and mobility costs they face due to severe impairment.

A further 9% are for people receiving Carer’s Allowance because they are caring for someone receiving a disability benefit (DLA or Attendance Allowance). So two thirds of long-term benefit receipt is accounted for by identifiable disability.

But not all disabilities trigger entitlement to DLA, so the true figure for disability as a driver of long-term benefit receipt will be higher again.

Chart 1:

Benefit-claims-running-for-five-years-or-more-May-2011
So Sue is right to argue Labour’s ‘scrounger’ rhetoric is implicitly, albeit unintentionally, directed against disabled people. This is unavoidable as long as the issue is framed in terms of ‘a lifetime on benefits’. Attacking coalition cuts to disability benefits does little to counteract the framing of long-term benefit claimants as ‘scroungers’ when most are in fact disabled or caring for people with disabilities.

At the same time Sunny is right that Labour is making efforts to avoid disabled people being tarred with the ‘scrounger’ brush. But trying to balance the message in this way puts the opposition in a contradictory position.

Bear in mind that many severely disabling conditions are invisible to casual observers (and read Sue’s blog if you need to be convinced on this). So public perceptions are a poor guide to what is happening to benefit receipt.

The saloon-bar wisdom of statements like ‘decent Labour voters see their neighbours lie about all day and get benefits while they are working their socks off” needs to be confronted with the evidence the UK public grossly overestimates abuse of the benefit system and grossly underestimates the scale of disability in benefit caseloads.

One statistic serves to illustrate the point: there are a quarter of a million phone calls to DWP’s benefit fraud hotline annually. One per cent of these calls result in a sanction for benefit fraud. Put another way, 99% don’t. That means an awful lot of legitimate claimants are getting hauled over the coals every year because of snap judgments by ill-informed neighbours and acquaintances.

Now ask yourself: do we want opposition policy to be based on the perceptions of voters or on the evidence?

Would-be political tacticians will have no hesitation in opting for the former, but Labour will have to live with its chosen policy for the long-term. Policy based on ill-informed grievances will do nothing to address the real issues about social security, and, as evidence (pdf) from the United States suggests, may be doomed to political failure as well.

The main reason disability dominates long-term benefit receipt is that over the last 15 years, prior to the recession, other types of benefit claim reduced significantly – notably for lone parents and people on sickness benefits . Labour’s rhetoric in opposition seems strangely oblivious to its record in office- described by David Freud no less as “remarkable”.

There is serious thinking going on in Labour circles on what the next phase of social security reform might look like, and there are hints of this in Byrne’s Guardian article. But seconding grievances against benefit claimants and then seeking to evade the consequences by saying you aren’t talking about disability benefits is a untenable position.

The opposition should be trying to change the terms of debate, not passively reproducing them.

That wouldn’t generate friendly coverage in the Daily Mail – but as the blogger Mason Dixon, Autistic put it:

“Short-term headlines are not worth the lasting brilliance of a solid paradigm change in a national debate.”

See also:

Miliband quizzed on disability reforms, apologises for omission from speechShamik Das, September 30th 2011

Miliband must stop spreading myths about benefit claimantsTim Nichols, September 28th 2011

How disability reforms were whitewashed from Labour’s conferenceDaniel Elton, September 27th 2011

Shameful incapacity benefit consensus between main parties must stopSteve Griffiths, January 5th 2011

The paradoxical stability of welfare expenditure (and why we should be spending more)Declan Gaffney, July 10th 2010

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74 Responses to “Labour’s untenable position on social security and disability”

  1. Andy

    “Now ask yourself: do we want opposition policy to be based on the perceptions of voters or on the evidence?”

    Thank you. Can we hold that thought please?

  2. Timbo

    It’s remarkable that Labour are so incapable of going on the attack on welfare given their decent record in office against the appalling record the Conservatives have.

    It is also utterly pathetic that Byrne is pandering to the saloon bar mentality and has spent no time in his current job actually learning in any depth about his portfolio. He seems to think of himself as some fantastically clever strategist who doesn’t need a proper understanding of his portfolio and can leave that to his junior shadow ministers. Sorry Byrne, you’re a New Labour bozo who needs to be urgently removed from the policy review job if it is to result in anything more than refried, technocratic ‘reforms’ that simply impose a harsher version of the current failing orthodoxy.

    A strengthening of the contributory principle has potential – Nordic countries manage both a stronger contributory principle and better protection for disabled people unable to work, so there is not inherent conflict. But, Byrne makes the same old tactical error of introducing this idea in the context of pandering to the tabloids by supporting their mythology that the common type of benefit claimant is the work-shy, sickness-faking scrounger [he will claim not to do this, as it is veiled in the ‘something for something’ artificial language that technocrats like him love to invent]. All this does is lead to the creation of overly bureaucratic systems of welfare provision built around a false premise which fails that overwhelming majority of claimants by demotivating them and stripping them of autonomy. The result is disengaged compliance with substandard work programmes, enmeshed in a byzantine bureaucracy. What we need is motivated engagement with high quality support that nurtures autonomy.

    The other big problem is jobs. Byrne mentions full employment once in his Guardian article, but does little to open this up as the core of the narrative that is needed. It’s time this became centre stage. Let’s hear the party bang on about full employment relentlessly.

    Let’s take the message out to traditional working class Labour territory that it is not about being ‘tough’ on claimants – we’ve had decades of that and nothing to show – but it is about jobs, training and welfare services that earn the trust of claimants and work with them to make progress in their lives through high quality, and personally tailored, skills and services.

    We would know if the party believed this if the front bench led amendments for the Welfare Reform Bill to make this kind of support a statutory entitlement for claimants. But they didn’t.

  3. Jos Bell

    Exactly so. This is the opportunity to re-design the semiotic landscape of disability. Instead of reacting to cheap stunt rhetoric, instead of being sucked into the judgemental magnet of accusation and opprobrium and being complicit in re-defining the spelling of disability into a word which starts with s and ends in r, we should be true to our social justice roots and ensure we speak true. The statistics should speak for themselves, however we need to build on them with empirical evidence which speaks to the wider community. We need to educate, not promulgate insults, which as Kaliya has said are becoming mainstream and increasingly re-defining perceptions of disability to the extreme negative.

    Firstly we should stress that many people in receipt of disability support do actually work – only BECAUSE they have that support. Other do voluntary work according to the limits of variable conditions. Disabled people contribute to society and to the economy.

    Secondly, we must acknowledge that disability is not a choice and can happen to anyone at any time. Out of the blue. ‘It could be you’

    Nobody elects to be born or to become disabled. Most people become sick or disabled at some point in their life – for most it is in older years, but when it appears the impact is sudden and shocking. The healthy years may also involve caring duties. The less the help from the state the more the negative impact upon the family – also interfering with work capacity of the healthy family members. Knit this all together and the micro challenges then become the macro deficit

    We need to be very clear to the electorate that positive disability support measures are good for the economy – indeed integral to sustainable growth.

    The vast majority of the disabled would like to work, however employers tend to run a mile from employing a disabled person – it is statistically almost impossible to re-enter the workplace after contracting a life changing condition. For those with variable conditions, self employment is unlikely to provide an answer unless they work in partnership with other party or parties – and of course the need for capital investment is a huge barrier to most who would like to pursue this route. Savings are unlikely to exist. Banks are not lending. Not just a Catch 22 – a Pi to A Million trap .

    The list of issues which need to be addressed in this vein is sizeable. Only those who are directly affected know the reality. Only when a representative number of people who are disabled and who are carers are properly consulted will the solutions emerge. Politicians must stop viewing everyone in this cohort as ‘a problem’ to run away from, to condemn or to temporarily mollify – they must recognise the reality and discover and develop the real solutions which are ready and waiting in the wings..

  4. Anonymous

    Declan: are you sure Labour’s scrounger rhetoric is ‘unintentionally’ aimed at the disabled? I don’t see that Sue says that, nor do I believe it. They started this whole mess, after all.

  5. jack s

    Ultimately with rising unemployment, and full employment nowhere in sight, all of these debates should be irrelevant. There aren’t any jobs to force our hypothetically scroungers into. So essentially this boils down to a call to further impoverish people in circumstances beyond their control.

  6. Declangaffney

    I think it’s unintentional in that people allow themselves to go along with the idea that a lot of disability benefit claims are inappropriate (not necessarily fraudulent) so they don’t think that ‘genuine’ disabled people are really affected. Which is bad faith rather than intentional meanness.

  7. Arecbalrin

    I’m half tempted to go into conspiracy mode(I’ve had this problem before) and say it appears like Liam Bryne and Iain Duncan-Smith almost co-orchestrated their activity over the last two days. First the Mail gets briefed, then Bryne appears to yet again ‘acknowledge’ what he never seems to actually stop acknowledging: that ‘Labour got it wrong on welfare’ and almost immediately Duncan-Smith is like “finally(for the third of fourth time actually), you accept this, now you should support our Welfare Reform Bill”.

    Neither of them lose anything from this; those who will not ever vote for Labour are reinforced in their views of Labour and that note Liam Bryne left for David Laws is mentioned repeatedly. Those who might vote Labour but hold the general widespread evidence-free position on welfare(“dem scroungers taking our money”) can be assured that Labour will be as bad as the Conservatives on it. Those optimists who always vote Labour can read into it what they want: either “Yes! They are going to do something about the benefits bill” or “Yes! They’re finally going to be fair and reasonable on the issue, I’ll tell everyone”.

    Those who actually know what’s going on (this is me bigging myself up, sorry), despair. Labour’s position in my eyes seems identical to the Conservative party. They are happy to accept blame for something that didn’t actually happen while they were in power because when they were getting that same stick in office, they used it to great effect to legitimate very extreme positions adopted on benefit claimants. They’re just going with what they know.

    Mason Dixon, Autistic.

  8. Blarg1987

    It would be interesting to note is this a symbol of the right, or a symbol of how self interested society has become, we are constantly being told that anyone who does not work hard is lazy, and if people are poor it is their own fault, granted there needs to be a work ethic, but if someone works hard for the minimum wage their whole life putting all the hours god gives to them to do the work, they still wont be a millionaire.

    Society needs to change its view and I think the media should be held more accountable when doing stories on the so called work shy and scroungers, a few complaints or law suits and I am sure the reality will be more transparent :).

  9. Felix

    Timbo, it is not at all suprising that Byrne is “pandering to the saloon bar mentality”. That is exactly how he got himself elected in the first place, pandering to racists and gutter politics.

    http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=768

  10. Lisa Ansell

    You might want to have a look at why welfare is a womens issue as well. Also Sunny Hundal and many of his friends worked tirelessly to ensure welfare reform was missed from their pages, while they demanded to be seen as leading the charge to fight the cuts. They did this for Labour even though we were absolutely aware of Labours stance on welfare. We have no political representation, no meaningful debate about welfare, and apparently our politicians have been listening to their own hatemongering for so long that they now believe it. This shocking display of where Labour are at on benefits is not shocking, it is where they are, and have been for years., They are attempting anything but addressing their own economic incompetence. Because grassroots labour didnt want to see that, they have worked to ensure that the people affected have not been heard, and any criticism of labour is to be hushed. And those claiming to be supportive of welfare issues have in the past year, denied access even to the anti0cuts movement, by ensuring it never got beyond people competing with ever more horrific stories for the attention span of a self satisfied left.

    This is not universally the case obviously. Labour have been attempting to triangulate using Broken of Britain and their disability minister since conference season. http://lisaansell.posterous.com/lesson-one-modern-politics-triangulation http://lisaansell.posterous.com/financialisation-of-welfare

    This year this position will become absolutely untenable, as any discussion which addresses the problems in our economy has to examine inequality, and will have to examine the relationship between our economic and social policy. This means actual debate about welfare which goes beyond ‘feel sorry for the pov and then vote Labour’. Labours current welfare rhetoric is not only disgusting, not only does it disenfranchise millions, but it shows them as economically incompetent and playing to a Murdoch agenda which is dying. Not wise. There is a reason we are looking at a long period of conservative hegemony and Labour have no idea what it is, because they can’t see past the facile nature of soundbites. With regard to the social care crisis we are being told about, the same applies. Again, Labour policy same as tories. And because all agreed this is an issue our politically affiliated media couldnt discuss.

  11. Simon Brader

    Sadly this is yet another example of Labour’s professional politicians pandering to the squeezed-middle Daily Mail reading constituency that they believe is the the only way to (their own) job security. In this I’m sure they are ably-abetted by any manner of professional advisors, image-makers, PR consultants. All in all a happy cabal content to take the money with minimal rocking of the boat.

    It seriously makes me wonder about my membership of the party. I want to belong to a party that cares only about equality and fairness and social justice and that believes that we should be measured, as a society, by the way we treat the weakest within it.

    In short, Mr Byrne, Mr Milliband et al – grow a pair!

  12. Jos Bell

    I would definitely not call the left ‘self satisfied’. As this posting clearly exhibits the left is worryingly fragmented, something which the right can and does exploit to the hilt. Having worked on numerous anti-poverty measures prior to and for the Labour government, researching, developing and assessing programmes across the length and breadth of the country, I can honestly refute the charge that people were not given the chance to be heard. Communities and individuals were widely consulted ( there was even a ‘condition’ known as initiativitis!), programmes and policies were continually evaluated and the results fed back and integrated into any legislative changes. I was part of this process and so can assure you it happened. Not all was perfect, but a very great deal was achieved and many families were lifted out of poverty as well as prevented from falling into poverty. Now so many of these measures are being overturned and dismantled as part of a full scale assault on the welfare state.

    As I say, the current opposition needs to rein back from a reactive position and produce a constructive agenda for growth based upon equality and inclusivity

  13. Anonymous

    To create the platform you desire (not the Parliamentary Labour Pigs) would require taking a lead on the issue and challenging the public perception fostered by Tories in all three polarized Parliamentary Parties with the media. That would require a Leader or group within the Shadow Cabinet to be able to fight and win a case as democratic advocates, they would also have to have vision and imagination to create this more sound platform. That is well beyond the ability, grasp and skill of the current PLP whose agenda will not change. We all remember Ed Milliband’s response at your Conference on disability (I am happily free of this valueless empty Party now) which was hardly mature, authentic or intelligible and could have been delivered by a child. It revealed him to be a man of childish rhetoric, weak conviction and having no real concerns about people who are vulnerable. I also happen to recall an ex-serviceman and his wife in the news lately who committed suicide after being fobbed off, they chose death with dignity than life with humiliation and hunger and this was as a result of the last as well as current administration. Labour has no claim to be friends with the armed forces as their Leadership have no compassion or mercy and as we witnessed with expenses and lobbying no honor either. They are not the friends of the armed forces and they are certainly not the Party that once could offer the kinds of values society is lacking. They were elected in 1997 by many who did not make as much money as they would have under a Tory Government to address the problems the Tories had ignored. They failed and simply emulated the Tories. Expect no change from Liam Bryne’s sick policies, lack of responsibility and arrogance, as a mad child. He is the true face of the current and past Labour Party, New, Blue, Black, Purple, Red, its all garbage. None of it is about the lives of the people of this country and none of it offers any real substantive solutions the people require. The Party has remain largely unchanged, uncreative but remains equally untrustworthy and equally petty and ruthless. The unelites still reign supreme and Ed Milliband is truly the greatest unelite I have ever seen in any occupation or walk of life. In the meantime the majority are seeking an alternative to the three main parties as they did in the EU elections and in Scotland. Option “D” please, a representative legitimate and “normal” option please no more weirdos and mad children.

  14. Jodi Bailey

    Why 'scrounger' rhetoric on benefits inevitably targets disabled people, whether you want it to or not http://t.co/6Y3IvMU0

  15. Jodi Bailey

    Why 'scrounger' rhetoric on benefits inevitably targets disabled people, whether you want it to or not http://t.co/6Y3IvMU0

  16. Jodi Bailey

    Why 'scrounger' rhetoric on benefits inevitably targets disabled people, whether you want it to or not http://t.co/6Y3IvMU0

  17. Andy

    “Decent Labour voters see their neighbours lie about all day and get benefits while they are working their socks off, and say, “Why should I vote Labour when they let this happen?”

    When I originally read this in the ‘Mail’ I did wonder how the ‘decent Labour voters’ could be ‘working their socks off’ and yet could see what their neighbours were doing all day.

  18. Newsbot9

    Aimed at the disabled? No, it’s giving the Tories cover for slashing the already threadbare JSA, on top of HB which is deliberately designed, now, to cover increasingly less of housing costs. It’s about punishing the poor for existing.

    It’s a betrayal of many Labour voters. Expect their poll support to fall again. Expect more “excess” deaths.

  19. Susan Archibald

    http://t.co/g32VNfS3 What Opposition? Need to grow a SPINE or will be loosing all disabled andcarers votes TRUST ME Well said @suey2y rtwt

  20. Susan Archibald

    http://t.co/g32VNfS3 What Opposition? Need to grow a SPINE or will be loosing all disabled andcarers votes TRUST ME Well said @suey2y rtwt

  21. Susan Archibald

    http://t.co/g32VNfS3 What Opposition? Need to grow a SPINE or will be loosing all disabled andcarers votes TRUST ME Well said @suey2y rtwt

  22. Scott Redding

    "Do we want opposition policy on social security and disability to be based on perceptions of voters or on evidence?" – http://t.co/2TuspB7k

  23. Scott Redding

    "Do we want opposition policy on social security and disability to be based on perceptions of voters or on evidence?" – http://t.co/2TuspB7k

  24. Scott Redding

    "Do we want opposition policy on social security and disability to be based on perceptions of voters or on evidence?" – http://t.co/2TuspB7k

  25. Jayney Tattan

    RT @leftfootfwd: Labour’s untenable position on social security and disability http://t.co/rA7UfYrc

  26. Jayney Tattan

    RT @leftfootfwd: Labour’s untenable position on social security and disability http://t.co/rA7UfYrc

  27. Jayney Tattan

    RT @leftfootfwd: Labour’s untenable position on social security and disability http://t.co/rA7UfYrc

  28. ann boyne

    RT @leftfootfwd: Labour’s untenable position on social security and disability http://t.co/rA7UfYrc #spoonie

  29. ann boyne

    RT @leftfootfwd: Labour’s untenable position on social security and disability http://t.co/rA7UfYrc #spoonie

  30. ann boyne

    RT @leftfootfwd: Labour’s untenable position on social security and disability http://t.co/rA7UfYrc #spoonie

  31. Pete Riches

    Left Foot Forward – Labour’s untenable position on social security and disability http://t.co/xV2Mv9Qj

  32. Pete Riches

    Left Foot Forward – Labour’s untenable position on social security and disability http://t.co/xV2Mv9Qj

  33. Pete Riches

    Left Foot Forward – Labour’s untenable position on social security and disability http://t.co/xV2Mv9Qj

  34. Janet Graham

    http://t.co/g32VNfS3 What Opposition? Need to grow a SPINE or will be loosing all disabled andcarers votes TRUST ME Well said @suey2y rtwt

  35. Janet Graham

    http://t.co/g32VNfS3 What Opposition? Need to grow a SPINE or will be loosing all disabled andcarers votes TRUST ME Well said @suey2y rtwt

  36. Janet Graham

    http://t.co/g32VNfS3 What Opposition? Need to grow a SPINE or will be loosing all disabled andcarers votes TRUST ME Well said @suey2y rtwt

  37. GoSocialGo.com

    @Go_SocialGO – Labour's untenable position on social security and disability: I think it's unintentional in that… http://t.co/IYMr3aBJ

  38. GoSocialGo.com

    @Go_SocialGO – Labour's untenable position on social security and disability: I think it's unintentional in that… http://t.co/IYMr3aBJ

  39. GoSocialGo.com

    @Go_SocialGO – Labour's untenable position on social security and disability: I think it's unintentional in that… http://t.co/IYMr3aBJ

  40. vanessa teal

    Pulls most of the welfare strands together > "@leftfootfwd: Labour’s untenable position on social security/ disability http://t.co/6DPX1FAg"

  41. vanessa teal

    Pulls most of the welfare strands together > "@leftfootfwd: Labour’s untenable position on social security/ disability http://t.co/6DPX1FAg"

  42. vanessa teal

    Pulls most of the welfare strands together > "@leftfootfwd: Labour’s untenable position on social security/ disability http://t.co/6DPX1FAg"

  43. Samuel Miller

    [UK] Labour’s untenable position on social security and disability | Left Foot Forward http://t.co/5EjJmdyJ #SueMarsh

  44. Samuel Miller

    [UK] Labour’s untenable position on social security and disability | Left Foot Forward http://t.co/5EjJmdyJ #SueMarsh

  45. Samuel Miller

    [UK] Labour’s untenable position on social security and disability | Left Foot Forward http://t.co/5EjJmdyJ #SueMarsh

  46. Brnch Sec Ruth H

    Labour’s untenable position on social security and disability: http://t.co/ReKiwmMN by Declan Gaffney, @djmgaffneyw4

  47. Wladyslaw Mejka

    http://t.co/g32VNfS3 What Opposition? Need to grow a SPINE or will be loosing all disabled andcarers votes TRUST ME Well said @suey2y rtwt

  48. John Broggio

    I know this isn’t really on the substance of the issue (which I entirely support) but you will make your case far stronger if you don’t use discredited means of displaying your data – i.e. DON’T use pie charts (almost) ever! (See http://www.perceptualedge.com/articles/08-21-07.pdf)

    I’d be happy to provide alternative presentations and help out in general on data presentation.

  49. Michael Smith

    Left Foot Forward – Labour’s untenable position on social security and disability http://t.co/xV2Mv9Qj

  50. Clive Arnold

    “Labour is trying to run with the hare (defending disabled claimants) while hunting with the hounds”

    I’m sorry but what? Labour started the witch-hunt against disabled people and did sod all to help their carers. Be as biased as you like but disabled people remember how they were treated by Nu Labour.
    It’s time Labour remembered why they came into existance

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