Labour’s answer to the Tories attack on benefits offers little hope to the rapidly growing numbers trapped in long-term unemployment.
Their plans, revealed this week in the national press, show a cowardly refusal to challenge the barrage of Tory lies designed to stigmatise unemployed people as ‘lazy scroungers’ choosing to ‘live a life on benefits’.
Instead they have chosen to amplify the chorus. Against the government’s divisive and misleading slogan of ‘strivers vs shirkers’ Labour has put forward it’s own absurd mantra. Shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne stated on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “If you haven’t got a job, you need to be working and training, not claiming.”
How exactly one can be simultaneously not in a job and working can only be understood to mean more of the same workfare schemes proven to do absolutely nothing to help people find work.
He also fails to explain how people left without a wage by the dire state of the economy are supposed to survive if not by claiming benefits. Perhaps he views facing the threat of homelessness and scraping by on handouts from food banks as some form of luxury lifestyle.
What was laid out in detail is how a Labour government would force those unemployed for more than two years to work in minimum wage jobs or lose benefits. They plan to achieve this by handing over public money to private employers in subsidies.
This calls into question why Ed Miliband’s Labour party is happy to lend credibility to the Tories’ divisive rhetoric while not once suggesting that it might be the private employers who will benefit from these huge handouts of public cash who are truly undeserving.
What reason would an employer have to employ someone on the dole if they are given incentives to leave people in the queue long enough so that they can claim a subsidy to their wage bill?
The fact that they say people pushed into this forced labour scheme would be payed the poverty pay of the minimum wage rather than the living wage also demolishes any credibility Miliband had in his claims to support the living wage campaign.
This plan to ‘out tough’ the Tories on benefits is craven electoral opportunism based on myths propagated by a stream of press releases and soundbites from Iain Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions which have invented facts from thin air to justify their brutal assault on the poorest.
The poisonous effect of this ideological attack is highlighted by a recent survey by the TUC. An example of the scale of the misconceptions that have been brought about by the Tory propaganda is shown by this excerpt:
“On average people think that 41 per cent of the entire welfare budget goes on benefits to unemployed people, while the true figure is 3 per cent.”
For the Labour party to refuse to take up the task of breaking these myths and instead to seek electoral gain by pandering to them is a disgraceful betrayal of the millions left without work by the economic crisis and the austerity that has deepened it.
If Labour were serious about offering an effective way of getting people back to work they should set out an alternative that challenges the Tory lies and their damaging austerity measures. A plan to reverse the cuts to our services, build council homes to tackle the housing crisis and make sure that the living wage applies to all.
Instead they seem determined to follow up Ed Miliband’s adoption of the 19th Century Tory idea of ‘one nation’ by also staking claim to another Victorian idea – one that Margaret Thatcher was proud to support – the ‘undeserving poor’.