Isabel Hardman

Labour revisits old welfare ghosts with its jobs guarantee

Labour revisits old welfare ghosts with its jobs guarantee
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Dig out the bunting, fly the red flags in celebration, for finally we have a policy from the Labour party. Ed Miliband promised that 2013 would be the year he'd set out some 'concrete steps' on key policy areas, and to that end he's announced a jobs guarantee for the long-term unemployed.

Coffee House readers will already be familiar with this scheme, as Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne discussed it in his interview on this site in December. But Miliband and Ed Balls have given the details today, with Balls writing an op-ed for PoliticsHome that says:

A One Nation approach to welfare reform means government has a responsibility to help people into work and support those who cannot, but those who can work must be required to take up jobs or lose benefits as a result – no ifs or buts.

Balls says that this scheme will drive down the welfare bill far more successfully than the 1 per cent cap on rises in benefit payments. But the plan has the power to annoy not just those on the right who will be unhappy that the funding source is a cut in tax relief on pension contributions for those earning over £150,000 from 50p to 20p, but also those on the left. Some in the Labour party will not take kindly to the idea that a claimant's benefits will be stopped if they refused to take up the job offer: already Owen Jones has claimed the policy will 'fuel idea long-term unemployed… are out of work because lazy'. Liam Byrne is more attuned than many in his party for the need for Labour to appear tough on welfare, though: and a job paid for by government isn't exactly the cruellest of policies (regardless of whether raiding pensions yet again for a state-sponsored job which only lasts six months is a good way of managing the economy or indeed of driving down long-term unemployment).

The funny thing is that this is precisely the sort of policy that James Purnell tried back when Labour was in government, only to get shot down by the powers that be. Labour is slowly catching up the ideas its more progressive figures were considering pre-2010.

P.S. It's interesting that Balls attacks Tories for calling welfare claimants 'scroungers' in his PolHome piece. While George Osborne and Grant Shapps have angered Iain Duncan Smith with their imagery about benefit claimants dozing behind closed curtains and loafing on the sofa, it's very difficult to find an instance where a Tory has actually used the unpleasant word 'scrounger'. The only examples I can find in Hansard are Harriet Harman ticking off MPs on the other side of the Chamber for the use of the word (such as here and here, and here's Glenda Jackson and John McDonnell making the same claim again) , which they then deny. And whenever 'scrounger' does pop up in a news report about Government policy, it appears to be a word added by a sub-editor, rather than a verbatim quote from a speech. Perhaps I've missed a big speech on 'scroungers' from a top Tory and CoffeeHousers can enlighten me on where it is that Tories have been calling benefit claimants scroungers?

UPDATE: One lead so far on the 'scrounger' hunt: Peter Lilley's 1992 'little list' speech. David Evans, then MP for Welwyn Hatfield, also used the word in the same year in a Commons debate.

And disappointingly, Cameron used it, too, in an interview with The Times in 2010, where he said: 'There is no way of dealing with an 11% budget deficit just by hitting either the rich or the welfare scrounger.' Many thanks to George Eaton for spotting that.