As he was selling his party’s plan for a jobs guarantee on the airwaves today, Liam Byrne made a passing reference to something that could form another part of Labour’s welfare policy offer. The Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary was talking about myths and misconceptions about the benefits system, and said:
‘I think a lot of people are surprised when they find out that jobseeker’s allowance is a little bit above £70 a week, and I’ve had constituents who’ve been frankly shocked when they’ve lost their job, they’ve gone down the jobcentre and they’ve discovered what the true rate of JSA is. So I do think there are misconceptions around, but I do think the British public is right: they believe in welfare reform, they want to see welfare reform happen.’
One of the policies that Byrne hinted at in his interview with Coffee House in December was a contributory principle: it’s something that those advising Labour on its policy review have been examining, too. In the interview, Byrne said the welfare system was ‘completely out of whack’ because ‘working people don’t feel they get those things back out of welfare in spite of what they put in’, adding:
‘That’s why we will put the something for something back into social security, we’ve got to forge a new deal for working people that means they get back out things they need to get on in life.’
One of the big debates in all three parties at the moment as they look to 2015 is how to ensure that those on higher incomes still feel they have a stake in the welfare state that they are paying into. It’s one of the arguments that those who oppose scrapping child benefit for higher earners use, and it’s also one of the reasons the Tories tremble every time someone starts talking about the winter fuel payment and other pensioner benefits.
Byrne’s words today and before Christmas suggest that there could – if his colleagues allow it – be some kind of higher-tier offer for those who have paid a great deal more into the system but find themselves unemployed. The welfare policy review is not yet finished, but it will be interesting to see how well the Labour grassroots take to any attempt by Byrne and co to reward aspiration through the benefits system.