Labour has betrayed its supporters on the welfare cap

The Tory austerity drive – bound up as it is in the barefaced lie that Britain was brought low in 2008 by benefit scroungers and not reckless bankers – was never about fixing the economy. It was about shrinking the state.

As such, it was hardly surprising to see Cameron’s Etonian class warriors lining up behind the welfare cap. If a lion eats an antelope, you don’t blame the lion. It’s in its nature.

The real betrayal of Britain’s poorest and most vulnerable people was Labour’s support for this toxic policy. With 13 honourable exceptions – Diane Abbott, Ronnie Campbell, Katy Clark, Michael Connarty, Jeremy Corbyn, Kelvin Hopkins, Glenda Jackson, John McDonnell, George Mudie, Linda Riordan, Dennis Skinner, Tom Watson and Mike Wood – who all deserve praise for actually doing what they were elected to do, Labour MPs acquiescently lined up behind the welfare cap. If an antelope feeds its calf to a lion, that’s pretty shocking.

For a party that apparently wants to cut child poverty, Labour is going a funny way about it. According to Save the Children, the welfare cap will push 345,000 children into poverty in four years.

The measure will cap welfare spending at £119.5 billion in 2015-16. Because cyclical benefits like pensions and jobseekers’ allowance are excluded, Save the Children believe the £3 billion in savings necessary for the government to come below this ceiling will fall disproportionately on working age benefits vital for parents.

Another group that will be hit hard will be disabled people.

In a letter praising the 13 Labour rebels for being “decent people”, Merry Cross, an activist for Disabled People Against the Cuts and a leading member of Left Unity, the new party of the left in Britain, said that disabled people are feeling persecuted. They have been hit by all the benefit cuts affecting non-disabled people, including sanctions, as well as those dreamt up to target them in particular.

“So in addition to everything else we are subjected to the thoroughly discredited Work Capability Assessment; the eight months wait or more for Personal Independence Payments assessments (equally flawed) and perhaps worst, the closure of the Independent Living Fund for those most in need of help to live in the community,” Cross said.

“Of course the welfare cap only makes matters worse, because our needs are most likely to tip our benefits payments over the top. I pity those who only wake up to the horror of all this when they become disabled themselves, through accident or illness, for horror it truly is.”

I recently heard from a woman named Silvia who fell ill while she was studying to be a nurse. Shortly after going for an operation, she attended an ATOS assessment. Despite still having a tube in her leg attached to a pump, she was declared fit to work and ineligible for Employment and Support Allowance. It took seven months to get the decision overturned and her money refunded, but by then it was too late. Her rent was in arrears and the bailiffs were at the door.

Labour’s betrayal of impoverished parents and disabled people was designed to avoid a carefully laid trap set in Osborne’s Budget last week. Labour doesn’t want to appear “weak” on benefits. But in supporting the welfare cap, Labour has shown itself to be a weak opposition.

Miliband and Balls have bought into the myth of scroungers round every corner. That people are claiming benefits because they’re too lazy to go out and look for work. We know this to be a lie. In Dudley last week, 1,500 people queued three hours for 40 jobs at Aldi. Last year, 1,700 people applied for eight jobs at Costa. It’s not that people won’t accept low-skill jobs for poverty wages. It’s that the jobs aren’t there.

Britain’s economy may be at last picking up after three years of growth being stifled by austerity, but the recovery has not trickled down for those at the bottom of the heap.

If the government wants to bring welfare spending down, it needs to be investing in the economy and in people, not cutting vital public services.

And instead of supporting an ideologically driven and punitive welfare cap, Labour should call for a mandatory living wage. It will lift millions out of tax credits and save £6 billion a year. Anything less is a betrayal of the people the Labour Party was founded to represent.

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8 Responses to “Labour has betrayed its supporters on the welfare cap”

  1. guest one

    labour has indeed continued it’s betrayal of its supporters. There has been a steady and continued increase in this development over the years. The labour party offer no opposition to the current nazi machine and should really be joining up with the tories. labour are foul and are bleeding votes daily. Fancy losing 6 million votes because they don’t care about disabled people – that’s what labour are doing

  2. GO

    What a bizarre article.

    “If the government wants to bring welfare spending down, it needs to be investing in the economy and in people, not cutting vital public services.”

    So should it be trying to bring welfare spending down, or not? Is there a (left-wing) case *against* investing in the economy and people, so as to reduce welfare spending?

    “And instead of supporting an ideologically driven and punitive welfare cap, Labour should call for a mandatory living wage. It will lift millions out of tax credits and save £6 billion a year. Anything less is a betrayal of the people the Labour Party was founded to represent.”
    Why “instead of”? If lifting millions out of tax credits and saving £6 billion a year is a good idea, why not state your intention to make those savings by committing to keep welfare spending below a certain level – and then use that commitment to argue for the necessity of a living wage?
    This sort of inconsistency seems to be everywhere in articles about the cap. In one breath, people make the case for measures that would tend to reduce welfare spending – a living wage, more affordable housing – and in the next they express their horror that Labour express a commitment to reduce welfare spending. Why? Why miss the opportunity to join the dots in the mind of the public?
    Do the people who oppose this cap support a policy platform that would tend to necessitate higher welfare spending (by keeping wages low, rents high etc.)? Of course not. So instead of making the case for extra welfare spending, why not use the cap as an opportunity to make the case for policies that would render such spending unnecessary?
    Turn it round on the Tories. If they want to control welfare spending – why won’t they support a Living Wage? Rent controls? Letting councils borrow to build affordable housing?

  3. Matthew Blott

    Ever heard the phrase choose your battles? Miliband and Balls have not bought into any myths about scroungers and suggesting so is intellectually lazy. Unless you only converse with Grauniad readers it’s obvious that attitudes have hardened and promising more of the same simply won’t cut with the public. The stereotype of the welfare recipient as a scrounger who sits at home watching Sky all day on their plasma TV has been cynically exploited by the Right no doubt. But like a lot of stereotypes there’s an element of truth which is why the Tories have been successful at getting this message across. It’s overplayed and the numbers for benefit fraud are tiny compared with the abuses of the tax system elsewhere but it simply isn’t true to pretend there aren’t piss takers who have never done an honest day’s work. I personally know some of these people as I grew up with them. Labour may well propose a living wage and I hope they do.

    As for the vote itself one quick look at the list of dissenters probably tells us all we need to know. All members of the awkward squad and / or lunatic fringe – depending on your point of view – Miliband will only conclude he’s done the right thing. Labour does want to cut child poverty but it won’t be able to do anything if it isn’t in government. Too many of the bien pensant regressive left commentariat seem more interested in ideological purity than getting a centre-left government elected. Some of us are old enough to remember the 1980s when millions of people voted for socialism. The problem was far more voted against and the Labour Party stayed out of power for nearly two decades.

  4. GO

    “Too many of the bien pensant regressive left commentariat seem more interested in ideological purity than getting a centre-left government elected.”
    The point, to me, is that under an “ideologically pure” left-wing government, we’d have more affordable housing, higher wages, lower unemployment, better workplace pensions, more accessible and affordable childcare, etc… and therefore lower welfare spending. So this supposed choice between ideological purity and electability doesn’t crop up. For once, we can have our cake and eat it too.
    High spending on things like housing benefit, tax credits and pension credit is a sticking-plaster solution to problems created by the imbalance of power between labour and capital in a free market economy. It’s a distinctly New Labour model of progressive government: let free markets operate, but tax the proceeds and pump them into social spending to mitigate the negative consequences.
    Yet we have people who’d see themselves as firmly *anti*-New Labour, as opposing sticking-plaster solutions and promoting attempts to tackle the root problems, queueing up to denounce Labour for being too right wing.
    *If* Labour just end up cutting benefits, rather than acting to boost wages, control rents, etc., the doubters’ cynicism will turn out to have been justified. But as of right now, I don’t see any compelling reason to doubt that Miliband sincerely favours tackling the root problems of low pay, high rents etc., and *on that basis* thinks restraining welfare spending is something Labour can sign up to.
    There’s no earthly reason why any left-winger should want to see tens of billions of pounds of public money every year being used to subsidise poverty pay, line landlords’ pockets, etc., if there are other ways to secure decent incomes and decent homes for working people.

  5. treborc1

    Well being disabled I’ve been through ATOS and with Paraplegia and the ATOS doctor saying I would never work due to my condition, ATOS stated I was fit to work. This is how ATOS makes it’s money the money it gets for doing the medical is low. but taking people though the Appeals pays much much more.

    Then the Tories brought in a review to check to ensure those people who appeal are the ones which are boarder line. They phoned me up before I could appeal to say they were reviewing my claim as the doctor had given me 45 points and stated I would not work, they asked me to please confirm with evidence I had no bowel and bladder function, which i did and I had the benefit reversed. This has ended ATOS system of making money I know people who had fifty points and still had to go through medical appeal, medical Appeal five six times making ATOS a fortune.

    Why did labour not have a second company do the appeals, this would have stopped ATOS from basically money making.

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