Look Left: the Labour Party’s shift on welfare, the failure to set a decarbonisation target and cuts to legal aid

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

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• In a speech today at Newham Dockside, Ed Miliband tackled head on Labour’s image as the party of welfare, saying that controlling social security spending and putting decent values at the heart of the system were “not conflicting priorities”.

Miliband said in his speech that:

“It is only by reforming social security with the right values that we’ll be able to control costs. And it is only by controlling costs that we can sustain a decent social security system for the next generation.”

For many today’s speech will be the point at which Ed Miliband got real about welfare. Attacked by the press for his previous reluctance to support a benefits cap, Miliband has now staked his party firmly on centre left territory, proposing a structural benefits cap as well as putting forward proposals to tackle long-term issues like low pay and the lack of housing – both drivers of the welfare bill.

This week James Bloodworth welcomed Ed Miliband’s speech but asked whether there should be more recognition of the role trade unions play in tackling low pay – something Miliband acknowledges is necessary to reduce the benefits bill.

The government managed to see off a rebellion by Lib Dem and Conservative MPs this week over calls for a carbon emissions target for the energy industry.

Tory backbencher Tim Yeo had tried to amend the Energy Bill to set a decarbonisation target for the power sector by 2030. However MPs rejected the move by 290 votes to 267.

This week Clare McNeil of IPPR looked at the potential repercussions of the vote on the UK economy, and Mark Rowney, also of IPPR, looked at how rejection of the 2030 target will hurt the UK’s car industry.

• As of April this year, civil law cases have no longer been funded by legal aid according to the legal aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act.

Legal experts have reported that the changes will likely reduce those who can apply for legal aid by 75 per cent.

There is widespread antagonism to the changes within the legal profession, with Crown court judges this week delivering their own negative response to proposed further government cuts.

This week at Left Foot Forward Liberty policy officer Rachel Robinson argued that publically funded legal advice and representation was increasingly beyond the reach of vast swathes of the population.

Progressive of the Week:

The Turkish people are fighting back against the creeping authoritarianism of the government of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose administration has in recent years launched a conservative and puritanical campaign against alcohol and “hedonism”.

The government of Erdogan has also been behaving in an increasingly hostile manner towards the media, with more journalists jailed in Turkey than anywhere else in the world.

This week Left Foot Forward looked at the support progressives can offer to trade unionists in Turkey as they protest against violations of collective bargaining rights.

Regressive of the week:

Under Jeremy Hunt’s watch, the number of patients having to wait more than four hours in A&E has reached its highest level in nine years.

According to the health think-tank the King’s Fund, 313,000 people waited 240 minutes or more to be seen in the final quarter of 2012-13.

Had this occurred under a Labour government, I think we know how the media would be responding.

Evidence of the Week:

The poor will be the hardest hit in the coming years by the economic downturn as a result of the government’s changes to the benefits system, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

Research published this week found that while the incomes of the wealthiest fell the most in the initial stages of the downturn, it is the poor who are now feeling the squeeze now and who will continue to be hardest hit as benefit reforms take effect in 2015/16 and beyond.

The IFS figures also suggest that the recession could lead to a ‘lost decade’ in prosperity for Britain, with the average person worse off in 2015 than in 2008.

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