Why many unions welcomed Ed Miliband’s speech on social security

8:50 am - June 7th 2013

by Richard Exell    

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Yesterday’s speech by Ed Miliband on social security reform was positive.

First of all, there was the reference to child poverty. I was in the audience, and my key question for this speech was whether he was going to drop Labour’s historic commitment to ending child poverty as some have demanded.

He began by accepting the fact that this goal has become much more difficult and the target of ending child poverty may have to be put back from the original deadline of 2020. Denying this would rightly have been criticised, after all, the current government’s policies will increase the number of children in poverty by 400,000 by 2015/16.

But he didn’t use this as an excuse to walk away from the commitment:

But I still think we can make progress if everyone pulls their weight.

And there was a real commitment to tackling working poverty. Part of his strategy for bringing down the costs of social security to raise the incomes of low paid workers. He talked of “an economy that works for working people” – a phrase I think we’ll hear more of over the next two years.

That’s why the union response has been so positive, with Len McCluskey highlighting the commitment “to action on demeaning, insecure work and a drive to embed the living wage” and Paul Kenny picking up on “stopping abuse of zero hours contacts, preventing exploitation of temporary workers and outlawing recruitment only from abroad.”

And there was the commitment to a Job Guarantee for young people unemployed over a year and over-25s unemployed over two years. This is a real job, built on the lessons learned from the Future Jobs Fund. This is a long-standing TUC priority and it was great to see the re-affirmation of Labour’s plans to introduce and extend this embodiment of reciprocity.

And, talking of reciprocity and TUC priorities, there was the emphasis on revitalising the contributory principle. There were times in the last twenty years when it felt as if the trade union movement was the only institution that still felt that National Insurance was part of the solution, not part of the problem.

I know from talking to Labour politicians that Kate Bell and Declan Gaffney’s report on Making a Contribution, published as part of our series of Touchstone pamphlets, has helped in the development of Labour thinking on social security reform. Of course, there’s still a great deal of work to be done to take this from being a bright idea to a detailed plan for renewal, but the promise to look for ways to show that society values workers’ contribution is real.

And finally there was the language of the speech – this was a “One Nation Plan for Social Security Reform” and it was nice to hear the term “social security” being rehabilitated by a leading politician.

Ever since we imported the American habit of calling the benefit system “welfare” we seem to have moved closer and closer to American attitudes too. Mr Miliband made quite a few references to the “welfare state” or the “welfare system”, but the Labour leadership seems to have returned to talking about social security and benefits – I hope they keep it up!

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About the author
Richard is an regular contributor. He is the TUC’s Senior Policy Officer covering social security, tax credits and labour market issues.
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Reader comments

1. margin4error

Problem with the poverty issue is three-fold

1 – it’s all based on nothing more than cash in your pocket, which is a tiny part of the well-being of children. (might it be better to spend money on a Finland-style starter box for new parents? It would make not a jot of difference to poverty figures but seems to make a big difference to welfare in Finland)

2 – No one has successfully convinced the public that it makes a tangible difference. We live with the lie of a meritocracy, so while kids in poverty is bad, we don’t care about parents in poverty cos they are deemed to be people who don’t merit more by nature of the bad choices they made. Kids grow up and become adults who made bad choices – in the wider UK narrative.

3 – Labour achieved remarkable things on poverty under Blair and Brown, first halting its long term rising trend, and then reversing it. But since most people in and around poverty don’t think of themselves as in poverty thanks to a victorian impression of workhouses and slums – the word “poverty” sounds like helping some un-real “other” people rather than making a difference to our lives.

2. Baton Rouge

Yes there should be no question of Labour ending child poverty before 2020 that would be utter madness. For fuck’s sake.

“This is a real job, built on the lessons learned from the Future Jobs Fund.”

No it isn’t. Its 25 hours a week for six months. The person will be no better off and the state will be no better off due to wage subsidies and tax credits. At the end the person will be unemployed again and the multinational scrounger will wheel in the next sucker. Its glorified workfare.

It was Tory lite blather designed as a response to IDS and the Daily Heil’s lies. Those lies weren’t challenged and the agenda wasn’t shifted away from the poisonous swamp that social security has become. No effort to shift the agenda to tax and corporate corruption, just Ed Balls off to suck up to the Bilderberg leeches.

Ed Moribund may just squeak in for one term as PM during which time the union leaders who have bankrolled him will expext payback but he’s no leader. No passion, no ideas.

“First of all, there was the reference to child poverty.”

Yes, I saw it too: the bit where he thought intergenerational ‘worklessness’ was enough of a problem to even mention it, cementing Iain Duncan Smith’s myth forever as a barrier to actually dealing with child poverty.

5. Mad Bad Bob

Schmidt 11:52 am.

Just to emphasise the “just another form of workfare” as Liam Byrne makes clear every time he mentions this “commitment” he refers to the Compulsory Jobs Guarantee Scheme. As Not Red Ed said :

“And because it is a compulsory jobs guarantee, young people will have an obligation to take a job after a year or lose their benefits.

And we will do the same for everyone over 25 unemployed for more than two years”.

And just to rub salt into the wounds, the speech by Not Red Ed also included

“Currently, after two years of work, someone is entitled to “Contributory Jobseeker’s Allowance” without a means test for six months.

They get £72 per week.

Whether they’ve worked for two years or forty years. Two years of work is a short period to gain entitlement to extra help”.

“So I have asked our Policy Review to look at whether, without spending extra money, we can change the system.
Asking people to work longer – say 5 years instead of 2 – before they qualify for extra support. But at the same time making that extra support more generous to better reward contribution”.

the “strong in work record – well we still don’t actually know, is it 2 years, 3 years, 4 years, 5 years, and maybe more JSA if you become unemployed and alongside that we also have, given the ambiguity and lack of detail possibly having to have an in-work record of at least X years in order to receive any JSA when unemployed”

“That’s why the union response has been so positive…”

Meanwhile, from an independent union (rather than the “one more heave, comrades, one more heave!” bloviators:


@6 The Judge

It’s ironic that the PCS membership includes the Job Centre staff who so readily dish out the misery to jobseekers.

8. Shatterface

And there was a real commitment to tackling working poverty. Part of his strategy for bringing down the costs of social security to raise the incomes of low paid workers.

Robbing the poor to give to the slightly less poor.

And there was the commitment to a Job Guarantee for young people unemployed over a year and over-25s unemployed over two years

Forced labour, you mean.

9. Shatterface

It’s ironic that the PCS membership includes the Job Centre staff who so readily dish out the misery to jobseekers.

With the possible exception of those staffing soup kitchens, Jobcentre staff are most likely to see the negative impact government policy – this and the last shower – has had on the unemployed.

Apart from the unemployed themselves, of course, who are no doubt looking forward to putting their degrees to good use stacking shelves at Netto for their benefits.

10. mike cobley

It would be difficult to settle on just one or even two grotesque flaws in Iain Duncan Smith’s version of a benefits system, since the redesign has led to a plethora of demeaning, coercive procedures, crass bullying, and the suppression of anything resembling empathy or compassion. And all of it delivered via a vile array of sanctions and punishments which has traumatised and terrorised the entire range of poor claimants, from the disabled to the homeless. And that Miliband would proceed with a speech which made no mention of these egregious injustices or the suffering they’ve caused is, frankly, a disgusting omission for a Labour leader to make. What else is the Labour party for if not to speak out for the weak, the sick and the suffering?

The challenge is that IDS needs to paint the Labour Party as the party for welfare scroungers and that tag has credibility on the street compared with the alternative narrative that bankers and their bonuses are to blame for the financial crisis and the recession that followed. Just in my local press is this news report:

“A former revenue and customs worker has avoided jail after admitting illegally claiming almost £50,000 in benefits. Daisy Adu-Gyamfi, 32, Outram Road, Addiscombe, lied about her immigration status to get a job with Her Majesties Revenue and Customs and then fraudulently claimed child benefit and tax credit claims.”

Compare that with this alternative narrative by the retiring Governor of the Bank of England:

“People have ‘every right to be angry’ with banks for the UK’s financial crisis, the outgoing Bank of England (BoE) governor Sir Mervyn King says.”

12. margin4error

Why does central government run work-programmes?

In Newham there is a scheme called WorkPlace – and it meets with local companies when they are setting up in the area (for example, if DHL has plans to open a depot). It talks to the guys actually setting up the depot about the skills they will need from staff. And in return for nothing more than a promise to interview any candidates that Workplace puts in front of them, Workplace itself will train local people for the jobs that are coming.

Newham has very high levels of poverty and deprivation and worklessness. But the scheme is a clever approach to the local situation. With huge regeneration underway, lots of new firms are opening up. But at the same time the area is so well connected externally that people outside of the area are often able to take those jobs. (WestField, for example, is about 500 meters from three other boroughs, and has 17 railway lines running through it)

So it targets a very specific local set of opportunities and a very specific set of local challenges – and it gets thousands of people into work who had not worked in a long time, or whose disabilities have always counted (unnoficially) against them.

Thing is – that scheme might be useless in Hull. A complete waste of money. Because Hull doesn’t have 7million people living outside of hull but within 20 minutes of the jobs in its city. So a programme in Hull should ave different aims and practices.

So why not devolve money to local authorities to run projects that work for them instead of pretending a chat between a PM and a CEO of a multinational could ever make the blindest bit of difference.

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