Rachel Reeves became Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on 7th October, Iain Duncan Smith’s new opposite number, replacing Liam Byrne. (She was Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury from 7th October 2011, and she’s been MP for Leeds West since May 2010.) Her first interview as IDS’s Shadow was published in the Observer late on Saturday night – and Twitter exploded. Blogs to read: Paul Bernal’s “Dear Rachel Reeves”; Mike Sivier’s “Sort out the tax dodgers, Labour, then the benefit bill won’t be a problem”; Jayne Linney “Oh Dear Rachel Reeves – You Got it Badly Wrong!!”.
But in the shouting and the tumult, a handful of people seemed genuinely bewildered as to the problem with what Rachel Reeves had said:
Neither Andrew Spooner nor Hossylass seem to have noticed that while Rachel Reeves is enthusiastic about forcing people into “compulsory jobs”, she’s said nothing about what kind of pay those compulsory jobs will get – and she’s made clear that if you are unwilling or unable to be forced, a Labour government will just let you starve homeless.
If you have been unemployed for a year or two, you are desperate. Read Jack Monroe’s speech to the Conservative party conference. You don’t need a kick in the face, you need a job. And there aren’t enough jobs going.
Well, say the comfortable people who’ve never been there, isn’t that what Rachel Reeves is offering?
Imagine this scenario, then. A woman of 23, with a child to support, loses her job. She can’t find work. After a year, she’s summoned to the Job Centre and told that from now on, she’ll be stacking shelves in Tescos, on whatever pay the DWP choose to give her. If the pay isn’t enough to cover childcare? If the job is too far away and there’s no public transport? If she’s applied to Tesco a dozen times for a paid job and been told there were no vacancies because they can get all the compulsory labour they want from the Job Centre, no cost to themselves? If she wanted to find part-time or flexible work so that she could spend time caring for her child? Tough, says Rachel Reeves: take the compulsory job or we’re done with you, you can die on the street for all we care.
Iain Duncan Smith says:
This government has embarked on one of the most aggressive programmes of welfare reform Britain has ever seen, and we already have a proud record of achievement. There is no doubt that changes to the welfare state are desperately needed. Our reforms will put an end to people being left on sickness benefits year after year; they will eradicate the trap that has left so many better off on benefits than in work; and they will ensure the benefits bill is sustainable over the longer term.
For example, someone like Steve, permanently disabled since an accident thirteen years ago:
I suffer from fibromyalgia, depression, severe pain in the lower back and neck and constantly have to have pain relief. My left leg is useless as a leg, and will if I don’t watch it get caught under my own wheelchair wheels as I’m not always aware of where it is. My right leg is better but standing upright, for even a few seconds’ causes a massive increase in pain then, I collapse and have even passed out.
Everyone dies. Nothing’s sure but death and taxes.
In general, over decades of the NHS and welfare support and help for disabled people, people have been living longer. Since the first Coalition government spending review, cuts on spending have targeted the poor and disabled.
The DWP’s own figures say:
The prevalence of disability rises with age. Around 6 per cent of children are disabled, compared to 16 per cent of working age adults* and 45 per cent of adults over State Pension age in Great Britain.
In 2008/09, 16% of pensioner households were living in poverty.
Esther McVey, the minister for disabled people, told the Mail on Sunday in March this year that in her view many of the people receiving disability didn’t really need it:
“Only three per cent of people are born with a disability, the rest acquire it through accident or illness, but people come out of it. Thanks to medical advances, bodies heal.”
Mortality rates have been falling steadily for years. There was a blip upwards in 2003, but it was followed by a blip downwards in 2004 – no overall change in the general trend downwards. Since the beginning of 2012, mortality among older people has been rising steadily, and has continued to rise in 2013.
[Note: The government have since decided to ensure no further evidence is published that could evidence a general trend upward by abolishing the Public Health England reports.]
IDS claimed he could live on benefits:
Interviewed on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme, Iain Duncan Smith was challenged on whether he could live on £7.57 a day, which was said to be the lowest rate of jobseeker’s allowance given to adults under 25. In fact the current rate is £56.25 a week.
“If I had to I would,” he replied.
Michael Gove talked about people living beyond their means, and Labour spending too much on welfare, and claimed this justified the Tory/LibDem cuts cuts cuts workfare cuts.
Michael Gove used to work for Rupert Murdoch as a journalist at The Times, until he was selected as the new Conservative candidate for the safe seat of Surrey Heath in the 2005 election.
Gove and his wife Sarah Vine, had bought a nice house in Kensington for £430,000 in 2002.
Between December 2005 and April 2006, Michael Gove used the Additional Costs Allowance (meant for an MP to claim for their second home) to claim more than £7000 for furnishing this house:
Around a third of the money was spent at Oka, an upmarket interior design company established by Lady Annabel Astor, Mr Cameron’s mother-in-law.
In a virtually-empty House of Commons, a handful of MPs stood up to oppose the cheap-work conservatives on the front bench, with a Labour Whip instructing party MPs to let the workfare bill pass, and cheat thousands of the poorest people in the UK out of the money the courts had ruled they were due.
The lonely Opposition in the House of Commons this afternoon:
Is it not the reality that this is a multi-billion pound failed flagship scheme, which was condemned by the Public Affairs Committee as extremely poor? Having lost a case and fearing that they will lose the appeal, the Government, instead of respecting our justice system, are abusing our emergency procedures to fix the consequences of losing? Does that show not a shocking disrespect both for our courts and for the principle that workers should be paid the minimum wage?
Read Seven Reasons Why You Should Stop Bitching About People On Benefits. Today’s debate – from Tory, LibDem, and Labour – was for the most part just bitching about people on benefits, who – sanctioned unlawfully of the money they were due – might be so impertinent as to want the money taken away from them unlawfully given back.
The idea that a day’s work deserves a day’s pay has become an ideal for radicals.
The idea that Labour ought to be the party of the left, standing in opposition against cheap-work conservatives, has … just gone, for a clear majority of Labour MPs.
As Channel 4 News publicly exposed the Universal Jobmatch site as a scammers paradise in December 2012: even easier than the old job scams offered via the JobCentre websites, this just required a scammer to register as an employer (no verification) and post job details, then harvest CV data from the jobseekers who applied.
From the Department of Work and Pensions website: Home \ Advisers and intermediaries \ Updates \ Universal Jobmatch:
Universal Jobmatch is the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) online service which is radically changing the way people look for and apply to jobs. It’s one of the biggest changes to the labour market in 27 years.
Universal Jobmatch is open to all jobseekers, regardless of whether or not they are claiming a benefit.
But if you are claiming a benefit, DWP can make you use it. Continue reading
A universal welfare state is the essential bedrock of a civilised country. A civilised country ensures that no one goes without healthcare because they can’t afford it, no one is treated as if worthless because they cannot work, and that anyone who loses their job needn’t fear destitution for themselves or for their family if they don’t find another job instantly. A civilised country ensures that no one needs to work when they are too young or too old or too disabled or too ill. This is not a system that can be replaced by random acts of charity: to become civilised, we pay taxes and national insurance and we all benefit.
Iain Duncan Smith became Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in May 2010 – a role he has held ever since, despite efforts by David Cameron to unseat him in the 2012 reshuffle. He has virtually no further-education qualifications and spent several months on the dole after leaving the Scots Guards in the recession of 1981. But the next year he married a very wealthy woman, the daughter of a very wealthy man, and he and his wife and four children still live in a house rented from his father-in-law on his wife’s father’s estate: he became an MP in 1992, inheriting Norman Tebbit’s safe constituency of Chingford. Whatever Iain Duncan Smith’s experience of unemployment thirty-two years ago, it’s safe to say that in thirty years he hasn’t had money worries – except when he became Leader of the Opposition and it was discovered he’d given his wife one of those plum “assistant” jobs which used to be a bonus for the spouse or child of an MP.
The court declared that the Department of Work & Pension’s workfare scheme was unlawful, because it was not being operated as described.
Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling, Mark Hoban, Esther McVey – every Minister involved has claimed that there is no question of JSA claimants being forced to work for commercial organisations against their will by having their benefits sanctioned if they refuse a placement.
This was evidently not true – many people sent on workfare said it was not true, though only Cait Reilly and Jamieson Wilson so far have been brave enough to take the DWP to court.
The court decision yesterday proved the Ministerial and DWP claims untrue and therefore unlawful, and yet the Department of Work and Pensions claim they won (and also said they were going to ignore the court’s decision to deny them leave to appeal).
Another question that should be asked is: can it be shown that Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling, Mark Hoban, or Esther McVey, have misled Parliament in giving evidence that has now been proved untrue?
So if the court found what they were doing to be unlawful, how could they have “won”? [As we find out in March: because they intend to pass legislation to make their unlawful actions retrospectively lawful.]
The Scottish government has appointed four well-off men to advise on poverty issues:
The members of the new expert group are: Darra Singh, a former chief executive of Jobcentre Plus now working for Ernst & Young; Martyn Evans, chief executive of the Carnegie Trust and former head of Citizens Advice Scotland; Douglas Griffin, a former finance director at NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde; and Mike Brewer, a professor of economics at the University of Essex and a research fellow with the respected Institute of Fiscal Studies.
The four, who are expected to make an initial report to ministers by May, will advise on a “fairer welfare system” outside the union.
It is, after all, not the Scottish Government’s fault that Iain Duncan Smith has succeeded in associating his mantra on “fairness” with the reality of making the poor, the sick, the disabled, and the unemployed so much worse off than they need to be.