Guest Post By Adam Colclough.
Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme yesterday, acting leader of the Labour Party Harriet Harman said the party would not oppose the government’s benefit cap of £20,000 for people living outside London and the reduction in Child Tax Credits.
She said the temptation to oppose everything in the budget, delivered by George Osborne last week, was a luxury Labour could not afford because the party was not trusted by the public on economic issues.
She said: “We are not going to do blanket opposition because we’ve heard all around the country that whilst people have got concerns, particularly about the standard of living for low income families in work, they don’t want blanket opposition to what the government is proposing in welfare.”
Three out of the four candidates running in the party leadership election have said they would oppose the government’s benefit changes.
Andy Burnham said, “you don’t allow a change that is going to take money off people in work who are trying to do the right thing.”
Yvette Cooper said cutting child tax credits would affect people’s incentive to work and that party could be “credible and also say we are going to oppose the things the Tories are doing that are going to hit people’s incentive to work.”
Jeremy Corbyn said he would oppose a budget he described as “brutal and anti-young and anti-the poorest in Britain.”
Only Liz Kendall said the acting leader had been “absolutely right” in the stance she had taken, adding that if Labour continued with “the same arguments we have used for the past five years” another election defeat would be certain.
Within hours, Harriet Harman had amended her position to say she was articulating an “attitude” not a policy, but the damage had already been done and the impression had been confirmed that Labour is a party without a leader and, it seems, a rudder.
The principle behind the benefits cap is that no-one should be better off on benefits than in work, in principle that sounds fair; in practice it doesn’t work so well.
The roll out of the Universal Credit means that housing benefits and those caring for children and vulnerable adults will be taken into account; leaving many families dramatically out of pocket. A situation, according to analysis published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies last week, the rise in the minimum wage announced in the budget will do little to improve.
The first budget delivered by a majority Conservative government since 1996 took away more than it gave to those families, to quote the cliché of the moment, who are trying to do the right thing; despite the rhetoric, work still doesn’t pay for too many people.
The Labour Party should be instinctively opposed to the ideological opposition to driving the budget and the past five years of ‘austerity’. The rare occasions when the party has managed to connect with the electorate have come when it has spoke out on the challenges faced by working families.
High levels of personal debt, an insecure economic position and the ever rising real cost of living mean that more of the middle class demographic New Labour courted so determinedly are being dragged into a nightmare world of struggling to get by.
The party needs to take a firm line on benefits, the dismantling of public services and the rising fear that too many people are being left to struggle at the times in their lives when they are most vulnerable.
If it can’t do so and despite the denials of the prospective leaders in waiting there is little sign that the party has the stomach for a fight on benefits changes, then more and more people will continue to ask just what is the point of the Labour Party?