The TUC’s shameful support of workfare may be part of a deliberate strategy of trying to win support for the welfare state by abandoning those they believe people see as the ‘undeserving poor’.
Towards the end of last year the TUC invited disability and anti-poverty charities to a one day conference called Winning on Welfare. The real reason for this misnamed vol-au-vent munching session however was to discuss the terms of surrender as the TUC announced they planned to focus their support for social security on working claimants only. They were quite candid about the reasons for this, a document accompanying the event explained:
“We must understand that the government has majority support for its general approach and that there is very strong support for some changes such as the benefit cap … People think that the current system is unfair as they think there is too much abuse and a dependency culture which keeps people from getting a job.”
The remedy for this according to the TUC is “to show that the government’s welfare reforms are a threat to the hard working people the government claim to support in the welfare debate.” As such the TUC have decided to abandon people who are unemployed or unable to work due to chlld or other care commitments, sickness or disability. Instead they will focus on the five week wiating period set to be a part of Universal Credit and on warning ‘hard working people’ what might happen to them if they lose their job or become unable to work.
This policy was manufactured based on a poll they carried out which found that some people had negative views of benefit claimants. This was followed up with two further focus groups made up of people with “soft support” for the government’s current policies. Somewhat predictably these groups were found to have views which softly supported the government’s current policies.
Despite this however, most people strongly supported the principles of social security, even down to specific types of benefit such as Tax Credits or disability benefits. The only benefit which was unpopular overall was Housing Benefit, which goes into the pockets of landlords, not claimants.
This apparant contradiction has been a feature of other research into people’s views on the benefits system, including that produced by the DWP. Whilst Iain Duncan Smith has made much of the popularity of the Benefit Cap, the number in support fell to less than half if it was shown to cause people to have to move from their local area. A DWP poll showed support for the Bedroom Tax initially, yet once people realised the suffering it would cause it became an electoral liability.
What all the research seems to show is that some people, usually slightly over half, are responsive to the kind of scrounger rhetoric that has poisoned the debate about social security. But they are also often passionate supporters of the principles of a welfare state and do not want to lose it.
Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms are built on lies: two of the main ones being that the social security system was generous to begin with, and that there is a job for everybody if they just try hard enough. These lies began under the last Labour government who decided that even people with serious illnesses should be declared fit for work and forced to compete in the jobs market. They called this equality, even empowerment. It has caused breath-taking suffering.
There are around four million people on out of work benefits. The most recent figures show there are about 650,000 job vacancies. The idea that there is enough work to go around isn’t even taken seriously by the Tory think tank who designed current welfare policies, and who recently said that reducing unemployment to zero is neither feasible nor desirable. As for the lie that the social security system was generous, well a million people using foodbanks soon demolishes that claim.
Many of those using foodbanks are working and of course in-work benefits must be defended. The TUC could even go further and fight – really fight, not just print leaflets – to get those workers a decent wage. That is the point of trade unions after all. But to betray those out of work, just because 52% of people agreed that “too many people depend on government hand outs”, is inexcusable. Winning on welfare means actually having the fucking argument not cravenly following the whims of whatever a polling company says public opinion is this week. It means not cowardly accepting the Labour Paty’s current policies which seem to favour a two-tier social security system based on how long people have been in work, with benefits stopped or means tested for the young and forced work for people who are longer-term unemployed.
This is how we lose the welfare state. By begging for compromises instead of demanding comprehensive social security for everybody. By conceding defeat based on weak public opinion instead of arguing that it is an atrocity that people should go hungry in one of the richest countries in the world. By not fighting against unpaid work, the one area where the TUC could actually make a real difference. Unless they radically change course, the TUC must not be allowed to set the terms of this debate. Because at the moment they are sadly not on our side.
Above pic from; http://wessexsolidarity.wordpress.com
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