On Welfare, UKIP is taking its lead from Labour and the Conservatives.
On Welfare, UKIP is taking its lead from Labour and the Conservatives
In his latest commentary, YouGov president Peter Kellner has a stark warning, namely that he expects UKIP to win the Clacton and Rochester & Strood by-elections, brought on by the defections of Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless respectively.
More interestingly still, Kellner notes that he can “now envisage” the Ukippers gaining up to 10 seats in the House of Commons in next year’s General Election.
Faced with such threats to the established parties, both Labour and Conservatives have sought to paint Nigel Farage’s party as one on the fringes of mainstream British politics. A bunch of “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”, declared David Cameron when asked about UKIP in 2006.
Meanwhile in the Labour conference edition of The House magazine, the shadow home secretary was equally aggressive, dubbing the party that came first in this year’s European elections as a “very right-wing party”.
Whilst the strategy for both Labour and Conservatives is clear, the reality is that when it comes to what is fast becoming a major election issue, namely welfare, UKIP aren’t so much extremists but are simply following the lead of the two big parties.
Addressing the UKIP conference in Doncaster over the weekend, the party’s deputy chair Suzanne Evans outlined seven policy priorities on welfare and social security. However a closer look reveals that for each policy area, UKIP are merely copying in one form or another from Labour and the Conservatives.
UKIP Policy 1: Crack down on benefit fraud
Labour and the Tories are now in a race to outbid each other to tackle the problem of fraud and error in the benefit system. In April for example, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced a range of new measures to address this. Meanwhile on Sunday, shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves used an article for Labour List to accuse the Conservatives of having “failed to tackle waste with billions of pounds lost every year to benefit fraud and error”.
UKIP Policy 2: End welfare tourism with a five-year embargo on benefits for migrants
Whilst in this respect, the five year policy from UKIP is an outlier; the direction of travel is nevertheless one that follows both the Conservatives and Labour.
In January, Iain Duncan Smith called for a two year embargo. In response, Rachel Reeves made clear that Labour would give serious consideration to such a proposition. She told the Murnaghan programme on Sky News:
“If they come up with concrete proposals that are workable, that are practical, that protect our social security system, that protect that principle that you have to pay something in before you get something out, then we would support that.”
The difference between UKIP and the rest now seems to be just three years.
UKIP Policy 3: Stop child benefit being paid to children who don’t live here
“And as I’ve said before, to make sure that the system is fair and seen to be fair we must clamp down on the scandal of child benefit being sent abroad. It’s not right that people are able to claim child benefits for children who don’t live in this country. The Government should be negotiating now to bear down on this abuse of our system and to ensure people who come to the UK come to contribute and not just to claim benefits.”
UKIP Policy 4: Limit child benefit to two children for new claimants
Iain Duncan Smith mooted this as an idea in October 2012, using a speech in Cambridge to question whether families should be able to expect an unlimited amount of benefits for every child.
UKIP Policy 5: Axe the bedroom tax
This has fast become a flagship policy for Labour, with Ed Miliband having used his conference speech to declare the tax to be “cruel” and “vindictive”.
UKIP Policy 6: End unfair ATOS-style disability benefit assessments
Labour has persistently been calling for reforms to such assessments, with the shadow minister for disabled people Kate Green having described the Work Capability Assessments in July as “failing to help disabled people into work”.
UKIP Policy 7: Pay more benefit to job seekers who’ve already paid tax and national insurance for five years
In January, Rachel Reeves called for such a policy, known as the contributory principle. She told an event by the IPPR:
“This is unequivocal: we are moving in the direction of restoring the contributory element of our social security system.”
The conventional wisdom has long been that both Labour and Conservatives are seeking ever more extreme solutions to national problems in a race to re-gain the support of those of voters who are now playing footsy with UKIP.
The fact is, however, that on Welfare it is UKIP that is following hot on the heels of the main parties.
Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot ForwardLike 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.