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Why announcing a tough new welfare policy isn’t as tough as it seems for Rachel Reeves

20 January 2014

Rachel Reeves is setting out Labour’s tough new benefits policy today. The Tories don’t need to be unduly worried, given the poll lead they enjoy on welfare matters, but just in case, Iain Duncan Smith and Theresa May have penned a joint op-ed in the Daily Mail accusing Labour of a ‘shameful betrayal’ on welfare reform and controlling immigration. They list the party’s failures in government, saying:

‘With one hand, Labour doled out millions of pounds for people to sit on benefits. With the other, they opened the door to mass migration, with those from abroad filling jobs which our own people didn’t want or couldn’t get.’

Conservative spinners, meanwhile, are explaining in some detail that their own benefits proposals are much tougher than anything Reeves will set out today, pointing out that George Osborne’s ‘earn or learn’ policy begins from the first day of a young person claiming Jobseekers Allowance.

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But what is interesting is not just the preparation that has come before this announcement (I’ve explained previously just how much consultation Ed Miliband has to do on these announcements to square his party), but the way the party has handled attacks on the idea itself. When Liam Byrne previously announced ‘tough’ welfare policies that went down like a lead ballon with activists and MPs on the left of the party, it would be the shadow welfare secretary himself who faced the wrath – and he ultimately paid for this with his job. But now Reeves, who is not a Blairite but a Milibandite, has been appointed, the effort seems to be as much about protecting her as it is the policy. So there is still the softly-softly briefing of Labour blogs, along with stories that sound much tougher appearing in papers such as The Sun (which is an amusing policy as it seems to assume that Labour activists only read Labour blogs and don’t even touch newspapers with right-wing sympathies).

But whenever the story has spun out of control, as it did with the Telegraph’s suggestion that Reeves was interested in a report by IPPR which proposed stripping young people of their benefits if they were not in training or seriously looking for work, the briefing has gone outwards, rather than inwards. One Labour observer remarks that the party ‘sh** all over the IPPR report, which they must have been thrilled by’. The Reeves policy is instead a ‘Basic Skills Test’, under which all new jobseekers will take an assessment of basic maths, English and IT skills. If they do not have the necessary skills, they will be forced to take up training as they look for work, or they will lose their benefits. She will also reiterate the party’s earlier commitment to its Compulsory Jobs Guarantee, which means that a young person out for more than a year must take up a guaranteed offer of work or lose their benefits. So it is a much narrower policy than the IPPR one, but it’s still enough to upset some on the Left. But this time, the new Milibandite shadow minister seems to be assured of her boss’s protection, which is more than can be said for her Blairite predecessor. The same goes for Tristram Hunt, who might make the same announcements that his predecessor Stephen Twigg made as Shadow Education Secretary, but with the blessing of his party leader. It’s tough announcing a tough new policy, but less so when you know that your leader has got your back.

Here’s Rachel Reeves on the Today programme this morning announcing Labour’s plans for ‘Basic Skills Tests’ for benefits claimants:-

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  • Mynydd

    What Mr Duncan Smith failed to say today: “my plans for Welfare Reform via Universal Credit are deep in the brown stuff, so much so, I cannot give a date, when it will be rolled out for everyone.

    • Colonel Mustard

      No, that’s what you have said. As usual with Labour’s cheerleaders in the blogosphere the truth is in a galaxy very far away.

    • Nicholas chuzzlewit

      He should also have added: “neither will I be contributing to the the biggest structural deficit in peacetime History or a 7.3% contraction of the economy. I will leave that to the lunatics of the Labour Party and it’s band of tame trolls like Mynydd”.

  • Iain Hill

    What you get out depends on what you get in – sounds fair. Pity it does not seem to apply to “wealthy pensioners”.

  • AB

    The question of where the jobs for the jobs guarantee will come from is still left hanging. Even if there are half a million jobs which businesses would be able to fill if they didn’t have to pay wages, it is hard to see that they would be jobs which would continue to exist at the point when the support for the cost vanished. Or how 25 hours at minimum wage with a reduction in entitlement to other benefits is really any better than the maligned alternative of work experience in exchange for JSA and other benefits, or any less likely to lead to employers reducing the number of people they employ normally in order to get a steady steam of “slaves”.

    The basic skills test looks like a nice money spinner for whoever wins the contract to design, accredit and adminster it if it is going to be applied to all new and existing JSA claimants. Not to mention a waste of time for the large proportion of JSA claimants who do not lack basic skills. Stopping immigrants getting on JSA as soon as they arrive in the UK is good, but then offering them English lessons to enable them to claim it and get the skills to compete seems rather generous.

    And increasing the value of contributions based JSA is utterly silly unless the level of payout is going to be a high proportion of previous salary. If you’re on £30k a year, lose your job and go on JSA, getting £150pw instead of £70pw is going to make practically no difference. You can’t live on either.

  • Colonel Mustard

    Be afraid. Be very afraid. The Wicked Witch of the Left has launched another of her flying pigs.

    They’re creepy and they’re kooky,
    Mysterious and spooky,
    They’re all together ooky,
    The Labour Chancellory.

    Rachel Reeves introduces another policy to a terrified populace:-

  • asalord

    Labour,Tory – Tweedledum,Tweedledee.

    • Nicholas chuzzlewit

      SNP long on rhetoric short on substance. Now get lost you ludicrous SNP Cybernat.

  • Thatcherite Lee

    Labour’s policy seems like a watering down of Tory policy spun to make it sound tougher.
    As ever with Labour once you get to the bare bones of the policies you soon see how weak they really are.

    • telemachus

      Listen up
      When Rachel speaks she means it and has the charismatic one to guarantee delivery

      • Colonel Mustard

        Very persuasive. More of the dictatorial “think as we think and do as we say” tripe so characteristic of the truly vile party you “trumpet” here.

      • Nicholas chuzzlewit

        Ed Balls couldn’t deliver a newspaper.

  • sarahsmith232

    So let me get this straight. The reason why Romanians and Bulgarians are not going to come here is because when they arrive if they can’t speak English, have no I.T skills and their maths is not so great they will be able to get a home, pay for it with housing benefit, be given JSA and will also be educated, free of charge, courtesy the UK taxpayer. Apparently this will all be very unappealing because while they go to sign on and the Jobcenter says ‘How’s your job search going’ they are going to be able to reply ‘No English . . . .yet’ and that is when the Jobcentre employee replies ‘Ok, that’s great, when you are better able to find it within yourself to speak more than 2 words only at that point we’ll start to harass you, so for the moment, here’s more money as an unemployed person than you’d get in full time work. there’.
    Yes, well, I’m sure I’d also think, best I stay well clear of that country then. Aaarrrgghh, this is a ****ing, b*****y one mother of a big **** off taxpayer funded pull factor. What is mentally wrong with these people? Could they not all die please.

  • goldbob

    wots this now,labour peering out of the caves they’ve occupied for the past 15 years,and making a real pigs ear of our education,social and immigration controls,then trying to blame the conservatives scots nats or anyone else they could for the bliar,brown collapse,and now that we have that clown balls whimpering at millipedes heels it just doesn’t look much better for nu-labour/labour,whatever one likes to call them these days,get real labour,get with the programme.

  • RavenRandom

    Don’t believe them. They spent years expanding the welfare and client state. Now they’re just glossing it up as they can see the public is sick of the welfare free riders.

    • Holly

      It has taken Miliband nearly four years to allow Labour to copy the Tories, and shut Balls up.
      The question now is, is this just a ploy to try to improve his abysmal personal rating with the public, and how will he explain away the millions wiped of pension pots that hold shares in energy/banking sectors?
      Maybe Cameron/backbenchers can ask Miliband this at PMQ’s this week.

      What will all those ‘worried’ Labour MP’s in the commons, with their furrowed brows, tell their constituents?
      What questions/accusations will they throw at IDS?
      I suspect it is completely bogus, will NEVER be implemented by Labour, and like Farage & Clegg they know they will not be forming the next government, so can say all kinds of ‘nice’/’tough’ sounding stuff.

      • telemachus

        Rachel speaks to the charismatic ones policies

        • Colonel Mustard

          There’s Fool – that’s you that is.

          And then there’s Foolish:-

          Labour’s preferential benefits policies for foreigners have always undermined this country.

        • Colonel Mustard

          Here’s another one you can trumpet, you muppet:-

          A far cry from your days as a Cadbury fruit and nutcase, eh?

        • Kitty MLB

          How can someone who has named themselves after Telemachus son of that great heroic figure
          of Homer and Ovid’s creation ( Odysseus- as you must know !) be so foolish- You clearly are profoundly befuddled !

          • telemachus

            Telemachus put paid to the suitors just as surely as he will do for the selfish right

          • telemachus

            Telemachus put paid to the suitors just as surely as he will do for the selfish right

            • Colonel Mustard

              Strange view of the Odyssey you have. As though your egotism has transmuted into Homer’s creation.

              • Kitty MLB

                The gentleman has not responded to you .
                I hope it will not take the same length of time as it did
                for Odysseus when returning to Ithaca.
                Unless telemachus has been eaten by some ghastly
                leastrygonians who clearly are ‘ the selfish right’.

        • Nicholas chuzzlewit

          “Charismatic”? would that be Elvis or Frank Sinatra? Either would be able to devise a more sensible welfare policy than Labour whose single objective is to keep people poor and voting for them. Fraser Nelson’s analysis of the plight of the poor is worth reading and goes along way to explaining the left’s hysterical reaction to ‘Benefit Street’. This programme has exposed the failure of the lrftist approach to benefits and its condemnation of the poor to remain stuck in conditions most of us would find intolerable. Rachel Reeves is no more than a mouth piece for this dreadful status quo and athe voice of Labour the party of lies, lying and liars..

          • telemachus

            Do you ever read your beloved DT
            There is no doubt that the programme is not representative of many claimants in this country. There are those with severe, enduring illnesses who rightly deserve state help and who, so far at least, have not featured. I note, too, that nearly half of the welfare budget is spent on pensions; also, that 20 per cent of recipients are in work but receive financial assistance because their income is so low.

    • sarahsmith232

      A person really shouldn’t. This is no different from their welfare policy last time. They are not getting pulled on this, it’s very frustrating. Last time in power people only had to do 16hrs pw on a training course, for years, no restrictions, at a college, anywhere, and they’d be allowed to carry on with the benefits. They didn’t to bother showing up, they didn’t need to bother to do coursework, nothing. Just say at the jobcentre ‘i’m in training’ and that was it, no harassment.
      This was going on on an industrial stage. It meant that Labour got to massage the figures, ‘they’re not unemployed, they’re students’. The idea that this ‘tough’ pledge is going to be any different is for the birds.
      When is one of them going to have an interviewer that has drilled down on the nitty gritty policy details behind this say ‘so, when you say, ‘if they don’t have a job’ is it ‘have a job OR are in training’. Huge, gaping wide hole of a get out clause. People will spot it and it will be straight back to the 15yr long part-time student career. I dread to think how much was spent on all of that, they’ll be at it again with this ‘tough’ measure.

      • 2trueblue

        If they had educated them in the first instance they would not have created the problem with youth unemployment. It grew faster in their time than any other. And of course times were great were they not??

  • swatnan

    Its about time Labour adopted a tougher approach to welfare, instead of being known as the Party for a soft touch. So, if Reeves policies are as tough as she says, I’ll be supporting them. I’m hoping she mentions the deserving and the undeserving poor; benefits should be reserved for the deserving poor.

    • sarahsmith232

      Huge hole in this policy. They’re going to be allowed to go into a jobcentre and use the excuse of being ‘in training’ to get out from Jobcentre harassment. The Labour policy is saying that if they lack the skills to be able to get a job then the taxpayer will fork out until they have the skills. For how long, on what kind of courses, at a college which they free up to do nothing more than confirm a student has enrolled? That if the student never turns up, turns up intermittently and does nothing else then oh well and so what? If they fail the course do they get to say ‘oh, dearey me looks like i’ll have to go and spend yet another year being an at my leisure, taxpayer funded part-time student then’.
      That Andrew Neil one should really go after them on this, they’re being allowed to get away with murder with this one. The ‘in a job OR in training’ part is their way out of this. Don’t doubt that all of those back bench reassurances prob’ involved lots of mentions of this.

    • Nicholas chuzzlewit

      The whole point is that they will not be tough at all. As with every Labour policy there is a chasm between rhetoric and what they actually plan to deliver. Labour the party of lies, lying and liars.

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