Socialist Worker

Labour conference round up: Universal Credit fudge sparks anger

Issue No. 2623

Unite union members campaign against Universal Credit in Brixton

Unite union members campaign against Universal Credit in Brixton (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Disability campaigners are angry at Labour’s failure to pledge to scrap the hated Universal Credit (UC) benefit.

Shadow benefits minister Margaret Greenwood announced that the party would hold a year-long review of benefits if elected.

Yet UC is a mechanism for punishing the poor— and it needs to be urgently stopped.

Paula Peters is a Disabled People Against Cuts and Unite Community activist.

“While they keep talking, claimants are dying, being made homeless and going hungry,” she told Socialist Worker.

The Unite union and the TUC union federation call for “stop and scrap” of UC.

Paula said Labour’s failure to do so “felt like a huge slap in the face”.

Working class people’s lives will get worse as the Tories roll out UC to more areas. They claim that UC simplifies benefits by combining six payments into one. But in reality they are using it as a tool to attack ordinary people.

The Tories are even making deductions to thousands of UC claimants to pay off other benefit debts. Some claimants are losing 40 percent of their income.

And the High Court ruled earlier this year that the rollout of UC discriminates against disabled people.

The policy is in a mess and Labour could have won a lot of support by rejecting it outright. But Paula said part of the problem is Tory lies about benefits and their attempts to demonise claimants.

“UC is failing people in work and out of work,” she said. “But the Tory government has done a good job with divide and rule. They talk about strivers and skivers, and some people have bought that.

“Labour doesn’t see welfare issues as a vote-winner. It seems like unless you contribute to society through work you don’t matter. But Labour formed the welfare state. They need to step up and defend it now.”

Campaigners will continue to fight to scrap UC and to defend claimants’ rights. Unite Community plans a national day of action on 1 December.

“We will not be going away,” said Paula. “We will continue to hold Labour’s feet to the fire over this and we encourage everyone to join us.”


Labour shifts over academies

A Labour government would end the Tories’ free schools and academies programmes.

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner told the party’s conference, “We will use our time in government to bring all publicly funded schools back into the mainstream public sector.”

This is a shift. Labour’s general election manifesto had said it would only stop new free schools.

But other bits of the speech were less decisive. Rayner said that Labour would “allow academies to return to local authority control”.

And she said parents could still set up their own “co-operative schools as part of the local schools family”.


Scottish independence blow

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard crushed hopes that Labour might improve its position on Scottish independence.

He told the conference that not only does the party oppose independence but that it will seek to block a further vote on the issue.

Days earlier Jeremy Corbyn said he would not rule out giving the Scottish Government the power to hold an independence referendum if he became prime Minister.

This would at least offer some concession to those who like Corbyn’s radical policies but want independence.

Instead Leonard has lined up even more with the unionists.

March for Independence Saturday 6 October, 12 noon, Johnston Terrace, Edinburgh


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