Liam Byrne cannot escape culpability for today’s Workfare vote

11:35 am - March 19th 2013

by Sunny Hundal    

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Today, the Dept of Work& Pensions is planning to rush through emergency legislation to ensure that job-seekers unfairly sanctioned by their policies can’t claim compensation.

As I said yesterday, the DWP deliberately pushed through vaguely-written rules that the judges overruled as inadequate. The DWP now hope to kill compensation claims by passing through legislation that will retroactively cover previous mistakes.

So what is Liam Byrne’s role in all this? I said yesterday that the shadow work and pensions secretary was effectively endorsing IDS’s plans. His team disputed this quite strongly with me.

For a start, I’m told that Labour will not vote for the DWP’s plans under any circumstances, contrary to the Guardian report last week. They don’t want to be seen as endorsing the plans even if their vote makes little difference (it will pass with Lib Dem support).

But they say they have one bargaining chip: they are willing to abstain on the vote if Iain Duncan Smith’s team offer some concessions. Liam Byrne says these are:

… to introduce a Real Jobs Guarantee for young people; a job for six months, with job search and training thrown in.

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.

But why not just vote against these proposals anyway? Liam Byrne’s office told me that by offering to abstain they could at least get some concessions, as IDS will get what he wants anyway.

But is it true IDS could get what he wants anyway?

Byrne’s critics within Labour (and outside) say this isn’t strictly true. IDS managed to get this emergency legislation on the timetable only because Byrne agreed to it. If he really wanted he could have blocked it and waited until the Supreme Court ruled on the DWP case.

Furthermore, the concessions won’t stop those wronged by the DWP’s blunder to get compensation. Stopping them from getting compensation is the sole purpose of this emergency bill. Liam Byrne counters that if the DWP was forced to pay out these fines then it would have to make more benefit cuts elsewhere. But that still betrays the job-seekers who have been exploited by the system thus far.

Yesterday, Unite the Union also released a statement slamming the government’s rushed attempts to shore up unworkable Workfare schemes.

It’s time the unions also pressed Labour to take a stronger line against IDS’s Workfare schemes.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments

There should be no sanctions and schemes must be voluntary. There is not full employment, with between 4-24 applicants for every job. So why punish people? How will giving Poundland etc free labour help?

2. mike cobley

jaw-dropping quote – “Both he (Iain Duncan Smith) and I believe sanctions are vital to give back-to-work programmes their bite.” ~ Liam Byrne, Labour Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions, House of Commons, 11 March 2013.”

Here’s the hansard link;

How long before Ed Mili understands that Liam Byrne is a millstone round his neck?

‘Liam Byrne cannot escape deadly tiger’ would be a much more satisfying headline. Particularly if accurate.

Why is the government paying private companies for doing no work to help people back to jobs? My ‘provider’ sends me an email every 6 months asking what I have done to find work, that is it. Corruption is okay if you are in the business of funding ministers joy trips

maybe tehy don’t agree with them enough in general to vote agaisnt them ,thats why they’re abstaining,

The government is effectively placing itself above the law, refusing to pay the compensation that the courts have ordered it to and then retrospectively legalising this illegal refusal. It is sad that Byrne is colluding.

“Liam Byrne counters that if the DWP was forced to pay out these fines then it would have to make more benefit cuts elsewhere”
Liam your wrong on this. Following this logic no one should take legal action in case they win and and have to be compensated. Not a good argument
The bill is retrospective – bad government – and should be opposed.

@ mike cobley

“jaw-dropping quote – “Both he (Iain Duncan Smith) and I believe sanctions are vital to give back-to-work programmes their bite””

I don’t see what’s so jaw-dropping about this – surely people have *always* faced losing their benefits if they refuse to take up training, work experience etc. after a certain amount of time on the dole? I’m sure that was the case when I was out of work in the 90s. So the question isn’t whether it’s ever appropriate in principle to threaten to remove claimants’ benefits, but whether it’s appropriate to use that threat to force people into particular schemes. (In the case of schemes that involve unpaid, full-time, low-skilled work, with no training element and no track record of success in getting people into permanent paid work, I’d say ‘no’; but I’m not at all sure Liam Byrne would disagree with that.)

surely people have *always* faced losing their benefits if they refuse to take up training, work experience etc. after a certain amount of time on the dole? I’m sure that was the case when I was out of work in the 90s.

Tom Jones famously avoided doing any old shite and kept claiming the dole so he could concentrate on building his music career.
You might also recall a bit of buggering about with exemptions for budding musicians being hastily added onto the New Deal at the start of Tony the tiger’s stint as prime minister, given the music industry revolted and since he’d put so much stock in ‘cool Britannia’.
Suppose we’ve got the X Factor now to weed out the stars these days though haven’t we?

10. Stephen Bee

So now it’s OFFICIAL… ‘EVERY MP HAS BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS’ with the exception of the brave few who spoke out about this CRIMINAL Action by Government…Sickening Parasites!

The DWP lost because the regulations were vague, and it is clear that they were deliberately vague. There were a multitude of schemes with different, and confusing, regulations. Those who might get compensation were lied to.

Byrne shouldn’t be making it easy for DWP who appear to be trying to set up a system with a great deal of arbitrariness in it.

12. Susan Brookes

I was seriously considering joining the Labour Party, but not now. Sickening. Ed Miliband should sack Byrne. A Blairite Tory. And he has been a pain before. Supporting cuts, during a time when tax evasion and avoidance is 120bn per year and state money is less than 3%.
He is clueless.

13. Shatterface

Furthermore, the concessions won’t stop those wronged by the DWP’s blunder to get compensation. Stopping them from getting compensation is the sole purpose of this emergency bill. Liam Byrne counters that if the DWP was forced to pay out these fines then it would have to make more benefit cuts elsewhere

So he’s suggesting that cuts would have had to have been made if the sanctions hadn’t been made in the first place?

Even if you accept (a) that workfare gets people into work (which it doesn’t) and (b) making it compulsary is necessary and morally acceptable, you’ve got a system that is budgeted on the assumption that large numbers of people are sanctioned.

If the sanctions actually worked as a deterent and jobseekers did comply there wouldn’t – according to the reasoning above – be enough money to pay everyone full benefits.

@13 Well the obvious reason for why that assumption gets made and budgeted for is because sanctioning people, and preventing them from claiming benefits, is the whole point of the endeavour. That’s why the rules had to be kafkaesqe, if they were clear, steady and easy to abide by then there’d be less people being sanctioned, which would be bad as far as the DWP is concerned.

15. Sandra Crawford

In response to Shatterface. Liam Byrne is always saying that there is no more money. Remember the note he left.
He is an economically illiterate neoliberal who has no understanding of the monetary system. I will not elaborate this here but if you want to know what I mean you should study the “Positive Money” website, watch “Money as Debt” on youtube, likewise the documentary “the secret of oz.”
Also read Martin Wolf in the FT who says that “the essence of the monetary system is the creation of money, out of nothing by private banks often foolish lending.”
The state has almost given up creating money – now only less than 3%. They have allowed private banks to create 97% as debt.
Liam Byrne says there is no money and giving poundland slaves their benefits would mean cuts elsewhere.
He is either siding with the parasitic banks who do not want too much state money and taxes to cover benefits because it means they must create less money – therefore loss if profits in interest.Either this, or as I said before, he is utterly ignorant of the monetary system.

16. Martin James

Unions should pull all money and force a change of direction. The issue is when Cameron stands up and accuses them of taking union money Milliband should (and I’m paraphrasing) say yeah so fucking what we are proud to represent trade unions and better than taking spivs and fat cats coin whilst you hand out tax breaks. Labour Party a disgrace today – except 40 or so that voted against. Time for as new direction and a new left. No longer a working mans/womans party and just tory lite. Disgrace
McDonnel for leader

Farewell democracy. Yesterday only 44 Labour MPs dragged themselves off their overstuffed arses to vote against this appalling bill. Not only did it take money from those who were entitled to it by law, it allowed the dangerous precedent of allowing ministers to rewrite law retrospectively. I’m confident that this law itself will be appealed and overturned, it actually contains a passage saying it might, but that will take years. By the time it is fought through the courts Smith will be reaping the rewards of his stupidity with large cheques from the companies he gave contracts to and the steaming mess will land on the desk of whoever is minister at the time – probably one Liam Byrne who will then pass more retrospective legislation. Even UKIP start to look relatively appetising when compared with Byrne, they may be nutters but at least they’re upfront about it.

Actually, retrospective legislation could be a good thing – who’s for retrospective laws bankrupting and imprisoning bankers and expenses fiddling MPs. All tax evasion could be retrospectively declared illegal and the money collected. Let’s have Vodafone’s six billion for a start.

@17 for evasion substitute avoidance in last para.

19. James Wilson

I’m taking part in workfare and I consider it a complete waste of time and taxpayers’ money. I have also been sanctioned due to an administrative error by the DWP which I have to go through a lengthy appeals procedure. I have had to do basic (and I mean really basic) Maths and English tests in order to make me “job ready”. This is despite the fact that I have been job ready since the date I lost my job and I have A Levels in both subjects. I believe that the scheme I am on diverts me from my real goal of actively seeking work. Maybe I’m naive but I always thought that Job Centres were there to offer jobs. Instead I feel like Oliver Twist with my bowl asking for some gruel despite the fact I have paid NI contributions for years for this very scenario.

For every Mick Phillpott and Jeremy Kyle watcher there are thousands like myself who have worked hard over the years only to find themselves in the unfortunate position of being made redundant. It is especially galling in my area (South Yorkshire) to see hundreds of Eastern European workers working in industries which were heavily subsidised to absorb the jobs lost when the mining industry was massacred. I do not need an expensive scheme run by the Tories and Labour’s business friends telling me that I’m not looking hard enough for work. The 40 Labour rebels may have ruined their chances of ministerial appointment but at least they can claim that they are Labour.

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