Liam Byrne’s speech to the Labour Party this week shows that no matter how many platitudes Ed Miliband hands out to the poor it will be business as usual for claimants should Labour be elected in 2015.
Whilst the scrapping of the Bedroom Tax is welcome it will be far too late for most of those affected who will have been forced from their homes long before the next election. The decision to sack Atos is also mere window dressing. The re-assessment of claimants on Incapacity Benefit by the company, whilst woefully behind schedule, is likely to be near completion by May 2015. And as Liam Byrne made clear in his speech ‘assessments have to stay’. So instead of Atos it is likely to be G4S, A4e or Capita who are used to bully new sick and disabled claimants out of the benefits they need.
Meanwhile Byrne’s call for full employment is as redundant as the rest of his policies – although it is true that when the Welfare State was created it was underpinned by this demand. But full employment doesn’t mean everyone has a job. Beveridge thought his plans could be achieved with a full employment rate of 97%. Some economists suggest that an economy can claim to have full employment even when over one in ten people are out of work. Generally full employment means the minimum amount of unemployment a capitalist economy can cope with before inflation soars and the workers start getting a bit commie. When politicians use the term today it seems to mean whatever they want it to.
So just like when Labour promised full employment in 1996, which would be delivered by the New Deal (stop laughing), Byrne’s full employment simply means everyone who’s been on the dole for a while will be forced into a minimum wage job for six months. Then they will go back on the dole. And other workers, not there because of the threat of benefit sanctions, will have their own pay and conditions undermined. This is what happened on the New Deal, The Flexible New Deal and later the current Government’s workfare schemes. And whilst politician’s only answer to unemployment is blaming unemployed people, it will keep happening.
What Byrne or Miliband didn’t say is as important as what they did. This week’s conference offered no comfort for the 200,000 children staring homelessness in the face due to the Benefit Cap. No let up for sick and disabled people facing the launch of a new raft of assessments for the replacement of Disability Living Allowance. No clear plans to scrap workfare, and absolutely no plans to scrap the vicious benefit sanctions which are currently driving hundreds of thousands of people into desperate poverty.
In fact Liam Byrne loves benefit sanctions so much he is even planning to help save Universal Credit – as if the DWP needed another fucking idiot on the team.
Liam Byrne may have been told to tone down the rhetoric for a conference at which Labour have pretended to show that they give a shit about the poor. David Cameron pretended to give a shit about the poor before he got elected as well. Sacking Atos and scrapping the Bedroom Tax may have grabbed the headlines, but the impact of these policies will be over for the vast majority even if Labour manage to get elected.
There was nothing proposed at this conference for the very poorest apart from a couple of scraps thrown down to fool the party faithful. Don’t be fooled. The Labour Party leadership are every bit as wedded to neo-liberal strategies to make the rich richer and the poor destitute as they ever were. Like their Tory counterparts they have neither the imagination nor the desire to propose anything which genuinely challenges the inhuman onslaught of capitalism run rampant. They just sometimes have slightly better PR.
Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid