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Will he, won’t he? Ed Miliband makes noises about benefits war

9 December 2012

Ed Miliband is ready to wage war with David Cameron and George Osborne over the Welfare Uprating Bill, which will see benefits rise by 1 per cent a year, rather than in line with inflation. The Labour leader has been talking tough in the papers this morning, with a piece in the Sunday Mirror in which he says:

‘We should be tough on the minority who can work and try to avoid responsibility. But there comes a moment when a government is exposed for who they are. That happened to David Cameron and George Osborne this week.

‘They showed they are not fit to govern because they played political games with people’s livelihoods. They said they were cutting benefits for the next three years and the mood music was that it was a way to punish the ‘shirkers and scroungers’. But the truth turned out to be so different. Six out of 10 people hit by these cuts are people who get up every morning and go to work. The lowest paid families getting tax credits. The new mum who will lose £180 in maternity pay.’

The Observer, meanwhile, reports that Miliband ‘appears ready to order his party to oppose real-term reductions in income for millions of the poorest and most vulnerable’. But in both instances Miliband and those around him have – significantly – stopped short of confirming that Labour will actually oppose the Welfare Uprating Bill.

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The problem in the party is that there are deep divisions on welfare. There are the Blairite modernisers like Liam Byrne, who are aware of the need for Labour to overhaul its image on benefits. And then there are others who bitterly oppose those benefit cuts already approved by Parliament. I sketched out the to-ing and fro-ing within Byrne’s own team last year over the £26,000 benefits cap. Those divisions go all the way down to the grassroots.

James reports in his column today that ‘there will be much more use of the ‘welfare wedge’ between now and 2015’ by the Conservative party. It is an effective way of smoking Labour out of its den on welfare.

Miliband does need to articulate why, if wages are not rising in line with inflation, benefits should do too, even payments for those in work that he identifies in his Sunday Mirror piece. One way out could be for Labour to really focus the debate on ‘strivers’ by trying to amend the Welfare Uprating Bill so that working benefits are stripped out, thus making the party appear ‘tough on the minority who can work and try to avoid responsibility’. But that he has not yet confirmed what his stance is on uprating benefits is significant, and suggests ongoing divisions in the Labour party, just as Tory strategists hoped.

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  • swatantra

    He’s come down on the side of the weak the poor and vulnerable in society, which is pretty brave of him, because these are the very people that don’t bother to turn out and vote in elections.

  • Rahul Kamath

    Jonathan Portes has an excellent blog post in which he points out that benefits have been growing more slowly than wages for 30+ years before the current recession. In a sense benefit growth is counter-cyclical and while the politics of tampering with this are good, the economics are daft.

    I also think the distinctions between strivers-shirkers are misplaced. People go back and forth between these two groups, except for the chronically unemployed (data on the size of this group anyone?). The real issue must be why working families on equivalent incomes get such different levels of support from the state. Think a family on the same income receiving Housing Benefit in Fulham vs. in Walthamstow.

  • HooksLaw

    ‘We should be tough on the minority who can work and try to avoid responsibility. But…’

    ‘… in the end we will refuse to make hard choices and must refuse to face the facts and use any lying opportunity to attack and misrepresent the govt’

  • pigou_a

    Miliband must be terrified. Labour are up 12pp in the polls and Cameron and Osborne’s laughably ill informed policies have caused the UK’s worst period of economic stagnation of all time.

    Can someone explain why Tory MPs are not more restless? Surely they must have doubts about the wisdom of leaving a couple of public relations lightweights in charge? It’s abundantly clear that Cameron and Osborne have failed.

    Osborne’s childish spin that “he’s cleaning up Labour’s mess” is completely untenable. You can only claim to be cleaning up if things are getting better. Simply smearing the mess around fools no one.

    Osborne needs to take some responsibility, raising VAT, NI and North Sea oil taxes and slashing public investment when real gilt yields were negative (the UK was being paid to borrow) and ranting about debt when base rates are at the zero lower bound was the height of stupidity.

    There must be some smart and ambitious Tory MPs with a modest understanding of macroeconomic effects of monetary and fiscal policy who could do a better job?

    As things stand, Miliband, without doing anything of note, is heading for a victory of historic proportions.

    • HooksLaw

      You are in possession of a completely different definition of the word ‘untenable’ than I can muster.

  • Jebediah

    Then Miliband is nuts. Most folk I know haven’t seen pay rises in years. Don’t see why benefits shouldn’t suffer a real relative fall too.

  • David B

    Ed and the Labour Party find themselves on a hook of their own making – “fairness”. This debate has been framed in terms of the individual in isolation at a micro level. The issue that now has arisen for them is that those in work find their disposable incomes squeezed and that squeeze is being increased to give those not in work an inflationary rise in their benefits. This is Unfair to those in work.

    Ed played politics and is going to lose this one badly.

    • HooksLaw

      Correct – there is for the greater part no absolute fairness. Its all relative. There is an absolute floor which benefits (I think) should maintain. Beyond that ‘fairness’ is treating everyone the same in percentage terms and that does not entail maintaining absolute differentials.

  • lee taylor

    There’s currently round 6 million benefit claiments and around 29.5 million people in work.

    Even if Labour’s figures are correct that 60% of benefit claiments are in work that still only works out at around 12% (3.6 million / 29.5million) of the total workforce claiming benefits.
    So it’s clear the overwhelming majority of those in work do not claim a penny in benefits thus rendering Labour’s arguement useless.
    As todays YouGov poll shows the vast majorty do not support an inflation increase in benefits with 52% either supporting a 1% increase or no increase at all with only 35% supporting an inflation increase or above.
    Even if Labour were to put forward an amendment to exclude in work benefits I doubt that would be good enough for most of their MPs and grassroot supporters so even that wouldn’t be enough to stop their internal devisions and frankly I doubt they would even do that.
    George Osborne has set them a trap and I suspect they’re about to work right into it and I for one hope they do.

    • HooksLaw

      The other point is that if labour protest at this quite reasonable measure in the circumstances, then in the real world if they were in government it shows that they do not have the spine for the hard choices.
      The circumstances’ of course are those inherited to us by Labour and are the result of 13 years of avoiding the hard choices and simply spending and borrowing their way round them.

  • toco10

    Red Ed and Labour will always encourage welfare payments in abundance to those that sit around doing nothing at the expense of others who strive because the former invariably vote Labour.Let it not be forgotten it is the hard working majority who pay for the benefits,schools,health service etc. through their taxes that Labour’s workshy gobble up.It is so cynical of Red Ed to claim innocence when he,Ed Balls and the erratic and dysfunctional Gordon Brown and the disgraced Labour Government did so much to bring the UK to its financial knees.Shame on him.

    • telemachus

      Did you not read the above at all?
      The message is that Osborne is mostly screwing those who are slaving in poorly paid jobs who lose their tax credits.
      They do not care
      Children in Tower Hamlets who will struggle throgh the rain and the slush to school this winter without proper shoes
      Why should they care
      These would never grow to vote Tory

      • anyfool

        Children in Tower Hamlets who will struggle through the rain and the slush to school this winter without proper shoes.

        The people in this multiculti nightmare have an easier option, go back to where they came from and they would not have slush to trudge through.

        But they wont do that because they would starve if they did not work, we owe them nothing, everyone of them costs thousands and if your party had just stuck with the indigenous working class they would not have had to bribe people such as these with money the country does not have for the sake of votes. you lot are the pits you neither care for these or any other.

        People like Balls, Milly and their pathetic followers are the real unfeeling political party in this what is now a sewer of a country.

        • telemachus

          England is where it is
          We have a duty to all our citizens
          We must take the rough with the smooth
          We undoubtedly benefit economically, culturally and spiritually from new blood coming from beyond our shores.
          We should both nurture the talented and support the those-yet-to-be-established

          • HooksLaw

            ‘England is where it is’ — yeas after 13 years of Labour. You are an imbecile.

          • Hexhamgeezer


      • HooksLaw

        No one is being screwed. Public sector workers are having their wages limited to 1%. Working benefit claimants are having their benefits increased by 1%. They are by definition still receiving wages. Other benefits, like pensions are going up by 2.5% – after going up by 5% ;last year. So at a time when wages have been frozen pensions have gone up 7.5% in the last 2 years.
        From these facts you conjure up the word ‘screwed’ Well screw you, you lying toerag.

        Any parent who refuses to provide shoes for their children should be sent to jail. I can vouch for the fact that you can by a quite decent pair of boys lace up school shoes for £10.
        Tesco’s do a ‘Back To School Girls star print trainer’ for £5.

        I am advised that 20 ciggys costs over £6, so its easy to see where any sacrifice might be made.

        • telemachus

          A decent pair of shoes is £10
          Sounds good to you and me
          But when the choice is the shoes and money to give the family Sunday lunch it hurts
          These folk do not have the luxury of money over after rent and food

          • Colonel Mustard

            Stop lying for Labour. See my comment above. The low-paid are £800 pa better off under this government than under Gordon Brown, aided and abetted by Ed Balls. Brown removed the 10p tax rate consigning the lowest paid workers to 20% income tax.

            Don’t pretend Labour love the poor. The record speaks for itself.

          • Hexhamgeezer


          • Fergus Pickering

            What are you talking about. I never pay more than five or six quid. Have you never heard of charity shops?

      • Colonel Mustard

        Under Gordon Brown, aided and abetted by Ed Balls, a low-paid worker earning £10,000 paid £1,180 in income tax. Now it’s £380. They are £800 better off.

      • HJ777

        Are not the poorly paid benefitting from the sharp rise in personal income tax allowances under this government?

        Isn’t this in contrast to the failure of Gordon Brown to increase tax allowances in line with earnings and the subsequent doubling of the 10p tax rate?

      • Malfleur

        Why don’t you come over to and tell us all you know about how life is lived in Tower Hamlets? A short paragraph would cover that. Oh, I forgot, you’re banned from there as a troll – the only one who is.

  • Holby18

    The public are in favour of welfare reform. As you note, Ed Miliband needs to be very careful as many taxpayers see the party as supporting non taxpayers. He leaves taxpayers behind and his argument about the working poor will not suffice.

    • dalai guevara

      In the low income parts of the economy, it is the minimum/living wage section of society which ‘pays’ by not earning in the first place. The rent seekers exploit this fact, that is why they continue to favour cheap immigrant labour over a potential homegrown supply chain, the former are just far easier to please…

      On top of that, these rent seeking immigration-lovers cherish the fact that they can continue to rip off this section of society by constructing even more ‘sheds with beds’ in suburban locations, and by sending them into the city on publicly subsidised TfL transport – out of site of the Primrose Hill lot.

      I shall be setting up a guided tours company soon – not to take tourists round the slums of Dhaka, but the slums of suburban London.

      • Fergus Pickering

        But will anybody come? I don’t think it beats Buck House and the London Eye..

      • HooksLaw

        Labour allowed in thousands of cheap immigrant labour after pointedly refusing to implement safeguards. Labour stuffed the very people it now claims it wants to champion. Labour are liars plain and simple.

        • dalai guevara

          Bliar was not a socialist, DC is not a conservative. How many more cycles until you grasp the pattern that applies here?

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