The Tories’ welfare cuts have sparked widespread protest. Last week they began to fight back—and to their shame leading members of the Labour Party joined in.
Chancellor George Osborne joined the Daily Mail newspaper in exploiting the horrific deaths of six children to demonise everyone who claims benefits.
Most mainstream politicians agreed that there is a permanent “underclass” of people who need to be “helped” off benefits. But there’s no evidence of generations of workers who are constantly out of work.
More people claim benefits during recessions. Job cuts have led to more people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance for example.
But the real people doing well out of the benefits system are the bosses and landlords.
Selling off council housing and abolishing rent controls have allowed private landlords to make a fortune from charging higher rents. They have grabbed a fortune in housing benefits that enable tenants to pay these extortionate rents.
And one of the biggest chunks of the welfare bill goes to workers whose wages are too low to live on. It’s a subsidy for greedy bosses.
The constant lies about welfare have had an impact. But most working class people know someone on benefits. And they can see their friends, relatives, neighbours and workmates being robbed by millionaire ministers.
So a poll in last week’s Sunday People showed that most people agreed with general statements such as “too many people were able to claim benefits”. But on the specifics it was different. Most wanted the bedroom tax scrapped and almost nine in ten wanted families of disabled people to be exempt from it.
Meanwhile a petition calling for welfare minister Iain Duncan Smith to live on £53 a weekend was handed into his office on Monday of this week. Almost half a million people had signed it.
The potential is there to beat the Tories. But disgracefully, Labour has helped to shift the debate about welfare from being about what people need to what they “deserve”.
Those in the Labour Party who still pine for the days of Tony Blair, are now only sorry that they didn’t slash benefits more. Closer to the Labour leadership the message was that access to benefits and social housing should depend on the amount of national insurance people have paid.
Deputy leader Harriet Harman stressed that claimants should have “an obligation to take work”. Shadow welfare minister Liam Byrne said Labour should let “councils give priority in social housing allocations to those who work and contribute to their community”.
The Tories face mass opposition to their attacks on welfare. They must not be allowed to lie their way through it.