The latest tranche of advice for Ed Miliband contains pleas for the Labour leader to think the unthinkable and hire Frank Field as his welfare adviser to how that Labour was ‘serious’ about reforming the welfare system. This would represent quite a change of direction for the party, and would be what commentators like to call a ‘bold move’, partly because Field is known to be quite difficult to work with, while also offering an expert understanding of benefits and poverty. I interviewed Field for Coffee House in May, and it’s worth revisiting some of his remarks now for an indication of what a Labour welfare policy would look like if he were in charge:
1. Labour needs to apologise for its equalities agenda
Field believes that ‘the equalities agenda the Labour party pushes’ has caused its vote to collapse among working class women, and that it should ‘apologise for what we’ve done for that group up to now’.
2. Labour would have to reverse over much of its old work on tax credits
Field wasn’t particularly complimentary about tax credits, or their architect, Gordon Brown. He called the former Prime Minister ‘that fool’, and said tax credits were a ‘lunacy’ because they make life harder for people who are in work. He said:
‘What happened was this terrible tax credit subsidy – I think it was in 2008 – Gordon Brown, who never really understood anything, let alone the economy, changed the rules on how your child tax credits and child benefit were treated. Up to that point, the monies you got for child benefit, and tax credits, were deducted from your social security payments so the bigger your child benefit, and child tax credits when you were in work, the bigger the incentive to work.
‘But that fool, without by or leave, changed the rules… So this huge incentive to people with three or four children about working was lost. Lots of them to their credit have not responded to the lunacy of Gordon, and continued to work. But once you’re out of work and you realise you still get this…’
3. Labour should gradually raise the minimum wage to living wage levels.
Miliband has so far made noises about incentivising firms to pay the living wage using tax breaks. But he has stopped short of anything mandatory. Field thought that the party needed to take more risks, and one of those should be standing firm on pay. He argued that there was a great fuss around the introduction of the minimum wage that he said had been proven to be unfounded, and that Labour should take heart from that and raise pay to a living wage level.
Field also supports refusing to accept new migrants from Bulgaria and Romania and for Labour to support an EU referendum. In May, he told me that Labour would be ‘mad not to’ take up his ideas on early intervention in troubled families’ lives. But the party would certainly have to be bold to bring him back to the frontbench.
You can read the full interview here.