Liam Byrne is going too far with Iain Duncan Smith’s failed programme

1:43 pm - March 18th 2013

by Sunny Hundal    

      Share on Tumblr

If Phil Woolas was Labour’s unprincipled hard-man on immigration, Liam Byrne is their equivalent on welfare.

According to the Guardian, the shadow welfare secretary is planning to tacitly support Iain Duncan Smith on his workfare reforms this Tuesday.

It’s worth emphasising why this is such a ludicrous proposition. The DWP plans to rush through a change the law so it doesn’t have to accept culpability for the way it treated job-seekers (i.e. like shit).

The DWP deliberately didn’t make the rules for these job-seekers clear, so many of them ended up working for free and not knowing their rights. The DWP thought they would get away with it, but now they have been caught – Iain Duncan Smith is trying to cover his arse.

This is a programme that does not work, and is less successful than if these job-seekers were not asked to do anything at all.

This is a programme whose sole purpose is to massage down unemployment figures; simply to subsidises private companies with free labour who would otherwise have to pay those people a full time wage.

We are living in a state where the government thinks these youths are so worthless that it will happily defy the judiciary to retroactively change the law. The judiciary is meant to be a check on state power and to enforce the rule of law, and anyone who gives even a shred for the rule of law or constitutional matters should worry about IDS’ willingness to treat it as irrelevant. He is nothing less than a megalomaniac.

It is more galling that Liam Byrne is endorsing this (by either voting for it, or abstaining – it’s not clear) allowing this to happen. At least Labour’s Future Jobs Fund was more targeted, much more successful in placing people in paying jobs, and did not subsidise the private sector.

Byrne is endorsing a travesty of a programme that goes against everything the Labour party stands for. He is endorsing IDS’s “strivers vs scroungers” rhetoric.

Furthermore, there is a good chance that this act of retroactively changing the law could also be challenged and struck down in court.

It basically says our youth aren’t even worth protecting from abuse when a Conservative govenment breaks the law to exploit them. How can this possibly fit in with Ed Miliband’s ‘One Nation’ agenda? Why legitimise a programme that does not work and only exists for exploitation?

A few weeks ago Labour youth groups said they would not support or canvas for Labour MPs who did not support same sex marriage. I would hope, for the future of our youth, they could consider doing the same with Liam Byrne.

This article has been updated. See this for an update on Labour’s position.

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  

About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
· Other posts by

Story Filed Under: Blog ,Labour party ,Westminster

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Reader comments

Is anyone surprised ? Liam Byrne has been an insult to the the very idea of the Labour Party being the voice of the poor and working classes since he arrived in Parliament.

No: workfare is about more than ‘massaging unemployment figures.’ It’s about hobbling, undermining, blaming and shaming claimants. Never forget: Labour started workfare.

3. Keith Reeder

It is EXTRAORDINARILY naive to suggest that “the DWP” has a vested “policy” interest in Workfare of the sort you’re suggesting here, Sunny – the Department is doing no more and no less than delivering the policies decided by the ministers in control of Welfare.

To suggest that DWP “deliberately didn’t make the rules for these job-seekers clear” is risible: the Department doesn’t draft the legislation on which the rules are based, and it is this, the underlying law, which was the problem, not the procedural/delivery aspects, which were flawed ONLY BECAUSE THE LAW was flawed; and the law was flawed because it was based on ideology, not the needs of the Department’s customers.

Although The Future Job Fund was a subsidy for employers, in that the govt paid minimum wage for 6 months. The difference is that people weren’t exploited by being made to work for free or face punishment.

“the Department is doing no more and no less than delivering the policies decided by the ministers in control of Welfare”

maybe, but people with more frequent experience of DWP staff on the ground would disagree. If you have to sign on your experience will alternative between staff who genuinely do give a shit and are helpful, and little hitlers who delight in having the power to sanction people – which in english means making people destitute.

At least if every staff member was like the latter you could attribute it to a ministerial decision – and both lab and tory ministers have tended to demonise people who claim in a manner that encourages it. It’s the staff who act in a decent way that betrays this. In reality our understanding of this is better informed by stanford prison experiment type psycology.

When DWP staff go on strike this week, they simply will not enjoy the solidarity of anyone who has ever dealt with them on a day to day basis. I daresay vulnerable people will be breathing a sigh of relief for one day at least.

So what’s new according to The Green Benches, “the former Prime Minister has branded the (bedroom) tax “offensive, onerous, unfair, arbitrary and stated that it should be postponed”
So Labour only want to POSTPONE actions which are offensive, onerous, unfair and arbitrary? I suppose that’s better than the outright support of Mr Byrne for Duncan Smith!!!

7. Caroline Molloy

Liam Byrne’s position on the vote is not as relevant as the fact that emergency regulation timetable cannot be imposed by government without Official Opposition agreement. Liam Byrne appears to have accepted emergency regulation timetable (meaning 2nd and 3rd reading and committee stage in one day, tomorrow) in exchange for some, as yet unseen, ‘concessions’.
Will these ‘concessions’ mean *all* the unemployed people illegally denied hundreds if not in some cases thousands of pounds get their money back? No doubt many of those unlawfully sanctioned, have been forced into the hands of the very payday lenders Labour puports to oppose – and we hear reports of people being driven to despair and worse by the brutal sanction regime which leaves those not prepared to work for free, reliant on foodbanks to eat.
Almost certainly there are hundreds of thousands of people, already on the poverty line, who have been forced into penury. The High Court ruled these regulations unlawfully Kafkaesque. Assisting the government to retrospectively legalise Kafkaesque rules, thus depriving poor people of money they desperately need and were wrongfully deprived of, is a disgraceful way for the Opposition to behave. I hope Ed Miliband will slap down Liam Byrne who has proved himself to be an utter liability ever since the infamous (and untrue) ‘no money left’ note.

I agree that Byrne has got this wrong and should reconsider. There is something fundamentally objectionable in changing the law in order retrospectively to deprive someone of a judgment. I thing it might be more helpful however if some of our leftier brethren were able to avoid personal abuse when making these criticisms.

Worried about money?
Lose those worries by adding a second paycheck with Strong Future International. Get started FREE. Start seeing money within a few weeks. Learn more at:

10. Bert Morgan

Why blame Liam Byrne alone? We know he’s a rabid Blairite. But isn’t Miliband and the rest of the Labour Party complicit through their silence.
Since the rumour emerged, I have failed to see any objection raised to this disgusting betrayal of those on welfare by anyone from the Labour party.
I hope others will join me in refusing to vote for the party at the next election for the simple reason that they differ in no way from the bunch of incumbent crooks.

Unrepentant Blairite/NuLab Byrne in effect supports sanctions against JSA claimants. What a surprise. They started this workfare, work capability assessememt nonesense.

Benefit claimants may wonder does it matter who governs be they Golems or Orks. Why vote Labour ?

Milliband has a problem getting the core vote back. His problem is he does not realise it yet.

It’s probably worth sharing this here – written by Liam Byrne for LabourList yesterday, and maybe giving some insight into the Labour position:

Some edited highlights:

“the DWP might be on the hook to pay back every sanction levied since 2011. There is probably no way the Department could re-pay the money without making heavy new benefit cuts this year.”

“Labour has always supported work experience… But, I’m very firmly of the view that what our young people need today is a real choice and a real chance to work in a real job paying a real wage. That’s why Labour will demand amendments to the Government’s bill to introduce a Real Jobs Guarantee for young people; a job for six months, with job search and training thrown in.”

“We won’t be voting for a bill that is rammed through the House at lightening speed. It was DWP’s rush to put in place their regulations that caused this mess in the first place. What’s more I’ll be insisting on crucial concessions to the Bill. Ministers must guarantee that appeal rights are protected for JSA claimants who have been wrongly sanctioned. Ministers must launch an independent review of the sanctions regime with an urgent report to parliament.”

Quite what this boils down to is not clear, but “Byrne sides with IDS” seems a bit of a stretch. It looks like Labour may be proposing to give some ground in return for a guarantee of *paid* jobs, and the protection of claimants’ appeal rights over wrongly imposed sanctions.

13. John Ruddy

I agree with GO @12 – and I’d have thought that a savvy media watcher such as Sunny wouldnt have been conned by the poorly researched piece of journalism in the Guardian on Friday which sparked this outpouring of outrage over t’interwebs at the weekend.

Read the story – carefully. There are no Labour quotes in it anywhere. Not unnamed sources. No senior backbenchers. Nothing. The only people quoted are the DWP. It seems this “support from Labour” was told to the Guardian by the DWP.

Now if I was a journalist, the first thing I would do is go to Labour and ask them to confirm this.

The Guardian didnt do that.

So you have to ask yourself why? Maybe its because a response along the lines of “Of course not you stupid hack! Why did you beleive what the DWP told you for one minute” would inevitably kill the story somewhat.

And shame on you Sunny for falling for their stunt.


Sadly, I suspect you’ve got it completely back to front: a ‘core vote’ strategy focused on winning back working-class voters would probably involve trying to out-Tory the Tories on welfare (as on immigration).

I’m damned if I can find the article I read now, but I’m sure there was some research recently that showed poorer people are actually *more* hostile to benefit claimants. Even people who claim benefits themselves often don’t think of themselves as doing so, and assume that when politicians talk about ‘getting tough on welfare’ they can’t mean *them* and their tax credits/income support/housing benefit/whatever, because they’re doing the right thing and just claiming what they’re entitled to; so politicians must mean all those *scroungers* we hear so much about, and all the benefits *they* claim.

“This is a programme that does not work, and is less successful than if these job-seekers were not asked to do anything at all.”

It does work. They’re just outright lying about the purpose of the programme in order to confuse liberals.

In fact it’s fairly transparent that the policy’s purpose is to punish the unemployed (whom they hold primarily responsible for the existence of unemployment) and force down the wages employers pay in order to compete with the Far East.

I’m sure Liam Byrne believes he’s just ‘listening’ to voters who have swallowed Tory arguments and want to see the unemployed punished.

16. Shatterface

I’m damned if I can find the article I read now, but I’m sure there was some research recently that showed poorer people are actually *more* hostile to benefit claimants

Sadly, this is true. Claimants tend to believe their own claims are legitimate but other’s aren’t. But we live in a society where people would rather suffer themselves than risk someone rlse getting something for nothing.

I mean, look at the claims the parties made about Scottish people receiving more from the government than they were paying in tax: electorially this clsim should have been suicide because it would be in the interests of those receiving benefits to continue with the system but no, some would rather vote to change this situation because they think they’d continue to get their benefits while everyone else would have their benefits cut.

And Labour understand this bias which is why they brought in these welfare programmesi. Liam Byrne isn’t going to far here, he’s being consistant with New Labour’s Blairite roots.

“Read the story – carefully. There are no Labour quotes in it anywhere. Not unnamed sources.”

Unless of course you count Byrne saying in the House last that he would support the government’s attempts to claw back the money.

@ 14. GO

I was not advocating a single ‘core vote’ strategy but this is part of the problem. At the last GE the Labour vote was clearly in meltdown. This meltdown included ‘core vote’. Now there were plenty of reasons not to vote Labour in 2010 on grounds of competence alone.

I live in South Yorkshire and there is plenty of ‘core vote’ here. It seems to me the ‘core vote’ did not vote Tory but they abstained or voted for fringe parties. Now the next GE will not be decided in South Yorkshire. However ‘core vote’ in marginals does matter. It is also a mistake to believe ‘core vote’ is solely a ‘working class’ phenomena.

Above all my comment ‘Why vote Labour ?’ is a fair question.

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liam Byrne is going too far by endorsing Iain Duncan Smith’s failed programme | Black Triangle Campaign

    […] By Sunny Hundal  1:43 pm – March 18th 2013 […]

  2. Liam Byrne cannot escape culpability for today’s Workfare vote | Liberal Conspiracy

    […] I said yesterday, the DWP deliberately pushed through vaguely-written rules that the judges overruled as inadequate. […]

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.