Friday, January 04, 2013

Labour is Coalition Lite

So the race to the bottom continues as Labour and the Tories try to outflank each other by getting tough with the unemployed, the disabled and “benefit scroungers” in general. How will the readers of the Daily Mail and other right-wing papers distinguish between the two?

It’s a question made more difficult by today’s announcement by Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor and his colleague Liam Byrne. Balls, who devoted his time in the New Labour government to deregulating the banks, says the long-term unemployed will have to take a designated job or lose their benefits if his party is returned to power.

The private sector will be given the money by the state to employ people for six months at the minimum wage. Labour would fund the scheme by reducing pension scheme tax deductions claimed by high earners. Labour’s workfare proposal is a variation of schemes already in operation by the Coalition government under which many claimants have to work for their benefits.

Labour is, in essence, Coalition Lite.

Balls’ scheme has nothing to do with solving unemployment as a social question and everything to do with impressing “swing voters”. Demonising vulnerable groups like the jobless and the disabled who depend on state benefits is always considered good for a few votes.

Labour's shadow work and pensions spokesman Byrne said the long-term unemployed needed to be "working or training and not claiming". Ah, music to the ears of Angry of Surbiton. "There is a vital principle at stake here," he added. Yes, there is Byrne. It’s called taking out on the poor and disadvantaged.

Not that Labour needs an economic crisis to launch its reactionary ideas. During 13 years in government, the Blair regimes set about “reforming welfare” along the lines they had picked up from the Clinton administrations in America.

Social security as a percentage of GDP fell. Many benefits for lone parents were terminated. Out went the Department for Social Security in favour of Work and Pensions, relegating the concept of the welfare state to the past. Directly in the firing line
were people claiming disability benefits.

In 2008, New Labour introduced the employment and support allowance (ESA) in place of disability benefits and instituted the dreaded work capability assessment (WCA). Firms like Atos have been paid millions since, with the incentive of forcing the disabled into work. Naturally, the ConDems picked up on all these initiatives and reinforced the attack. Iain Duncan Smith, the current work and pensions secretary, won’t be satisfied until he’s buried the welfare state for good.

Leaving aside the fact that Labour appears to have already earmarked cuts in pension tax relief for another policy, it is clear to anyone who cares to think about it that an Ed Miliband government would be just as reactionary as the present one.

The recent “one nation” rhetoric is a thin mask for another great deception. If elected, Labour would continue to make the cuts to reduce the budget deficit and appease the money markets. Miliband’s vision of a “one nation economy” is one where employers and workers collaborate in a kind of a corporate state.

Britain is a low-wage economy in the midst of a systemic global economic and financial crisis. That fact goes unsaid by Miliband and his party. Better to attack an easy target than identify capitalism itself as the problem. Which makes you ask again, what is the point of Labour? What is the point of electing a party whose policies are in essence indistinguishable from those of the Tories or Lib Dems? They are all in it together and we should have no truck with the whole sordid business of traditional party politics.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

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