Reframing the welfare debate -Winning the Argument

Re-framing the welfare debate

Winning the Argument

By Darrell Goodliffe, previously published here

An awful lot of the welfare debate gets lost in the irrational discourse promoted by the media and politicians alike. The left is falsely portrayed as favouring large and lavish welfare spending while the right pretends it is all about cutting the welfare bill when in fact its economic policies drive it through the roof. As a left-winger, a socialist, I do not want to see a large welfare bill; a large welfare bill means many people are out of work, working for poverty pay, paying extortionate rent for sub-standard housing, etc, etc, all things that I am actually against and I want to see eradicated. I want to cut the welfare bill because I want to see jobs for the people that can take them, people being paid a decent, living wage and everybody having a basic entitlement to being housed in liveable conditions. The fact that the state is forced to step-in on so many occasions is not, for me, a comment on peoples inherent fecklessness or a ‘dependency culture’ but in actual fact a sad commentary on the failings of capitalism as a social system.

Welfare is going to be a big issue in the next Parliament due to George Osborne’s much-touted plan to cut £10 billion more from the welfare budget. No doubt this is as much politically as fiscally motivated because it is one area where the general thrust of government policy is actually quite popular. Polls have been published which showed opposition to welfare cuts for the disabled but the attitude towards those who are unemployed is actually dramatically hardening. The pronounced opposition to cuts for the disabled and the governments harrying of those on disability benefits in general is pretty unsurprising, especially as these surveys were conducted in close proximity to the successful Paralympic Games. What we are actually seeing is a growing division in the public hive-mind between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor – with something similar happening with their view of the rich incidentally – support for those viewed as ‘deserving’ remains strong but woe betide the undeserving.

So, how does the left respond? Firstly, it has to make the point that the welfare system does not exist to make a moral judgement as such. Its purpose is to ensure that no citizen falls below a certain, bare minimum standard of living.

It should perhaps be noted however, that the current construction of the welfare state does lend itself to implying a moral judgement is there to be made, rather than being geared towards that general goal, its stated purpose is actually to intervene only in narrow, rather tightly-defined circumstances, ie, those of dire need. Obviously, then whether you support it can become a matter of how dire you think somebodies need is and indeed if you think they are doing everything they possibly can to steer themselves out of that position. Secondly, it needs to be making the point I made at the very top, that a high welfare bill is not actually what we want at all, I would much rather have a sustainable economy that provides enough well-paid jobs to go round than a billions of pounds welfare bill. Thirdly, and finally, it needs to develop policies that address the real causes of high welfare spending and indeed ‘welfare dependency’ at root-cause.

A big cause of a dependency is out of control rents so we need to look at rent controls. The big plus is a policy of rent control, for example, does not just benefit those right at the bottom but those in work as well, those at the bottom, middle and even middle-top, so it will have broad appeal and by addressing a real social issue for many householders avoids the charge of only about helping the public, mistakenly, view as ‘scroungers’. It also makes the position of benefit claimants relative to those who aren’t claiming and thus will undercut the right’s infamous ‘divide and rule’ stratagem by giving people a focus on a problem they have in common.

Welfare is one of the issues that the left has to recognise it is losing the argument on and the only way to win it back again is to take the best of our values and frame them in a way which intersects with the public mood, not by adapting to it, but listening to it and seeking to change it. If we don’t do this then the outcome is simple, the right will win the day, and our most neediest citizens will suffer for our inability to both adapt and be principled (something that is possible in politics) all at the same time.

See also:

Making Rights for the Disabled a Reality : Think Left

7 thoughts on “Reframing the welfare debate -Winning the Argument

  1. I hope you print this, well of course your choice.

    Today Miliband stated if people can work they should he did not define this, but just saying this is wrong and he knows it because we had this out before.

    I’m disabled after a fall of 47ft and I landed I think either on my back or on my legs, they were broken so was my back, I was taken to an hospital by an ambulance crew who did not have training, they did not use a spinal board or have a neck brace even though I told them I’m sure my back was broken, they asked how did I know and I said I cannot feel my legs.

    Taken to hospital a nurse asked why was he not placed on a board and I heard them say he only fell off a the pavement and he’s been drinking.

    I was sent home being told to watch my drinking, that night I had a fit followed by a stroke, and yet nobody would believe me, until my two work mates told them the Police were now involved with the inspector of factories .

    I’m now classed as Paraplegic I’ve lost the use of my bowel and Bladder, although I did learn to walk again using crutches, but mostly I use a wheelchair.

    OK that just a quick look at my disability.

    I was asked by the Labour party to take part in a survey and then to help the BBC do a few program about disability, an American and I quote Cowboy who runs a well known workfare company came over to find me work, plus a few others, but of course he tried and what he found me was a job in a cafe working ten hours a day for ten quid, the America was really put out when I told him it was illegal to pay £1 an hour, and I asked how do I get up six steps and then move around in a wheelchair, he said try we went down and the young lady had closed up the cafe and refused to answer the door telling the cowboy to go away.

    Later on my Job center sent me down to Tesco’s to seek work, at Tesco they said so long as I could do the same as other I would be employed, they said can you fill the top shelf with bread, of course I could not reach it, and they said and I again quote, you do not meet the requirements.

    MIliband was put out that a young lady had applied for 130 jobs, I’ve applied through the job center for 2600 , and have had three replies one of which basically told me he had enough retards now another would be adding insult to injury.

    So what do I do, I cannot get JSA because I’m obviously disabled, and I doubt I will keep benefits as I’m going through my MCA perhaps ending my life would be on Newer Labour plans.

    How are we to get jobs, somebody has to answer this.


    • @ Rob Liam Byrne’s and New Labour policies on Welfare are profoundly wrong and wrong-headed. All I can do is to continue to argue the case but I wish that I could do more. It must be very hard to have been let down repeatedly. Wish it wasn’t so.


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