26 Mar 2014

Welfare – caps and traps

One former Labour cabinet minister said he’d be looking very carefully tonight at the size and make-up of Labour’s rebellion on the welfare trap (sorry, “cap”) devised by George Osborne. It will be a good indicator, he said, of just how much of Ed Balls’ zero-based spending review a Labour government with a slim majority or no majority at all could expect to get passed.

One veteran of the Brown regime, which wasn’t above setting a few “traps” of its own writes here on the Resolution Foundation website about how you shouldn’t assume a cap or legislated target is quite as fixed or sacrosanct as the name suggests.

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On the BBC’s Today Programme, Evan Davis pursued a similar argument with Iain Duncan Smith (IDS), pressing him on whether the statutory poverty target passed by Labour and signed up to by the Tories was worth the paper it was written on.

IDS repeatedly cited Labour’s opposition to the spare room subsidy as proof they weren’t serious about the cap as they hadn’t simultaneously identified £450m in savings to make good the cancelled cut. Labour is convinced when the numbers are truly known for adjustments and real net savings the spare room subsidy will be shown to have saved not a penny.

With a statement on G7/EU council by David Cameron after Prime Minister’s Questions, the welfare vote should come around 3.30pm.

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One reader comment

  1. Philip says:

    Like too much of our so-called government, this is a largely political device aimed at what is seen as a vote-winning section of the electorate. The fact that it is based on a deliberately distorted view of the vast majority of welfare recipients has been conveniently overlooked by the right wing media. These are convenient scapegoats, like Polish plumbers…and they have no voice & frequently don’t bother to vote….so in our so-called democracy they don’t count.
    It’s also a classic as it deals entirely with a symptom rather than the causes. Suppose worsening relations with Russia cause a collapse in world trade & a hike in energy prices causing another recession, which in 2015/6 puts hundreds of thousands out of work from the part time, temporary, zero hours, fragile jobs they are currently in? At that stage, any cap is likely to be breached for reasons which were beyond the control of whoever is in government.
    But even if that doesn’t happen, give or take genuine scroungers – of whom there are plainly some – there are a lot of people out of work because of poor education, disability, lack of relevant skills, etc. How will a benefit cap get them back into work? The government is funding “get back into work” schemes run by private sector providers, who seem to be doing a mediocre job, even as they cherry-pick. If we seriously want to deal with unemployment, we have to go back to investment in “Sure Start” and a whole series of interventions (generally unpopular because they cost money) in education, training & employment support. The trouble is, once you’ve demonised a huge group of people, most of them misleadingly and unfairly, the political support for measure like this has been dissipated. So we get into a vicious downward spiral. That’s the result of Osborne’s political cynicism.

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