Ed Miliband’s ignorant approach to welfare…
Every time our illustrious leader says something about welfare reform or ‘benefit cheats’ you can guarantee it is going to be the product of ignorance and/or also of the most mind-boggling stupidity. I will leave aside the facile comments he makes that implicitly compare ‘benefit cheats’ to ‘bad bankers’ for a while. Sadly for Ed it is his stance on this issue that undermines his claims to be a great ‘moral leader’ and thinker. If he was this you think he might start telling people some home truths rather than basing everything he says on the latest headline in the Daily Mail.
Let’s start with ‘benefit cheats’. Some people do play the system and make a comfortable living for themselves out of it (though they do a very small amount of damage to the public purse). However, these people are tiny in number – so tiny you could probably fit them on two, if not even one, pin heads. Other people ‘cheat’ the system because the system is a bad one that gives you a pittance to live on and also it actively encourages dishonesty and punishes honesty.
I have recently entered employment but initially am doing low hours and therefore obviously am on a low-income. So, I have honesty declared this, only to be told I am losing the vast majority of my Jobseekers Allowance. In other words, I have taken a job, done the right thing as both Ed Miliband and this government want me to do, entered the workforce, yet in this initial period, when I am incurring significant travel and ‘start-up’, as it were, costs and the state’s response is to say thank you very much and good-bye. We won’t support you and in fact will take back the majority of the peanuts we have been expecting you to live on beforehand. I would have been much better advised to not have declared the low amount of hours I am working and taken my full whack.
Work often does not pay but that has nothing to do with the alleged ‘generosity’ of the welfare system. Instead its a product of much worsening of terms and conditions and the depression of wages across the board (except, of course, at the very top) caused directly by the emasculation of the trade unions. Ironically, capitalism could now do with the unions being unleashed if it wants to survive (stronger unions would drive up wages for one thing and get people spending again as well as paying off their debt quicker) but I digress. Issues like this are ones that Mr Miliband nor his Conservative opponents want to talk about because the solutions (like relaxing the undemocratic anti-trade union laws) are ones they don’t want to have to enact.
When I see the Conservatives saying they want to force jobseekers to travel 90 minutes to find work, my response is ok, show me the money because you are obviously not au fait with how much transport and travel costs. Ed’s response however is to see how he can pinch this idea and make it his own. Rather than speak up for the vast majority who are dependant on welfare but either want desperately to work or genuinely can’t he chooses, like the Conservatives, to focus on the tiny minority and rather than show moral courage in standing up to the rubbish spouted in the right-wing press he is happy to pander to every prejudice it pushes out.
Labour did get things wrong on welfare but the cardinal sin was to use the welfare state to compensate the middle classes for their falling incomes through a complex system of tax credits and such like. In power, Labour could have freed the unions to win for people a greater share of the good times which would have meant less debt and more sustainable and long-lasting growth. It didn’t, instead it used the welfare state to insulate the middle class from the growing crisis in its earnings falling and debt growing that was directly caused by the smashing of organised labour. The poor, the people who really needed it saw little benefit from Labour’s welfare largesse, and so now we are left with this almighty mess. This is incidentally, why we were treated to the shameful spectacle of inequality growing under a Labour government.
So, has Ed Miliband learnt from this? No he has not. When it comes to providing sustainable work which is adequately paid, he tinkers at the edges with a ‘voluntary’ living wage which barely even rated a mention at the last conference. In the case of the welfare state he bases everything he says on what the Daily Mail does and lectures poor and vulnerable people from a position of utter ignorance about what the welfare system is like when your on the receiving end. He has never had to use it so, I guess, in his defence, how could he understand? He is however, the leader of the Labour Party and therefore his attitude, his comments and policies when it comes to welfare, like so many other areas are simply not good enough. If he is the courageous person he claims to be then maybe he needs an urgent look in the mirror and a stern talking too from himself before he starts issuing forth on these issues.