Isabel Hardman Isabel Hardman

The strivers vs scroungers battleground

Welfare will be one of the key battlegrounds at the next general election, and George Osborne’s Welfare Uprating Bill will certainly be one way the Conservative party can prod Labour on what is a hugely awkward policy issue for the party. It accelerates the internal debate about how Labour can appeal to the electorate on the issue of welfare while staying true to its own core beliefs, and, Tory strategists hope, will cause some ructions.

While the party appeared united in Manchester at its autumn conference in September, it faces hard times ahead as it tries to answer some of the big questions about what a Labour welfare state would look like. Liam Byrne, the shadow work and pensions secretary, is more switched on to this than some in his party, and this doesn’t always make him particularly popular with colleagues or the grassroots members. Today in the Commons, though, he attacked the uprating decision, calling it a ‘strivers tax’. Byrne said:

‘The news for working people was a disaster. Buried in the small print of yesterday’s budget is the brutal truth that this was a budget for unemployment… Today and yesterday we learned that it is working people who are going to pay the price. We already have over 6 million working people in poverty in this country, but the Resolution Foundation said yesterday that 60 per cent of the Uprating Bill the minister spoke of will be paid by working people. It is a strivers’ tax… These are the strivers and battlers that the Prime Minister promised to defend at his party conference, and they are the people paying the price for this government’s failure.’

The interesting question for Byrne will be whether Labour might support the 1 per cent rise in benefits if working tax credits and maternity pay were stripped out: it could be an amendment that the party brings to make the debate about supporting working people, and to try to defuse the Chancellor’s attack on the party’s welfare policy.

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