Monday, 20 January 2014

Rachel Reeves Social Security Speech

So, after 3 months in the job, today, Rachel Reeves made her first major speech on our social security system. If you live your life with a long term illness or disability, living in terror at the coalition’s brutal changes to benefits and support, this is not the speech to find out how – or indeed if – that fear will continue under a Labour government.

There is no mention of illness or disability at all apart from this
“Now it’s important to say at the outset that there will always be people who cannot do paid work, because of illness or disability.

And it is part of our responsibility to them to make their rights a reality: rights to dignity and respect, to a decent standard of living, and to the resources and support that can empower them to contribute and participate equally and fully in society.”
Welcome words, hard won by campaigners before the reshuffle, but I imagine many will conclude that the time for reassuring words is fast running out. We need concrete alternatives to the chaos unfolding, chaos that affects every aspect of our lives at the moment.

Most of what we are told today has already been well trailed. It’s worth noting that those naughty little trouble makers at the Sun and the Telegraph were 100% wrong – as usual. There are no plans to remove benefits from the under 25s other than the compulsory work guarantee that promises at least 25 hours of work at the minimum wage after 2 years of unemployment (1 year for young people.) Whilst I imagine the debate will rage over sanctions, for me, a paid job is not workfare. Most people who find themselves out of work want a job more than anything else. If Labour can guarantee one, it seems reasonable to me that people should be expected to take it – within reason of course.

And it’s reason we all understandably question. Sanctions are currently used as cruel punishment, often unfathomable and unfair. At the moment, there is no reason at all in the system and few yet believe Labour will run our social security system with more sense and less judgement than the coalition.

Labour’s support for the Benefit cap and an overall cap on social security spending has already been out there for yonks. We might conclude they are unworkable policies based on ideology rather than need, but it seems they are here to stay.

The speech announces that jobseekers who don’t reach minimum standards in maths and English will be required to take training or lose benefits. So some more information on sanctions and the attitudes of a potential Labour government towards them.

“So today I am announcing another important plank of our plan to address this problem: a new requirement for jobseekers to take training if they do not meet basic standards of maths, English and IT - training they will be required to take up alongside their jobsearch, or lose their benefits”
But finally, and for me, most controversially, Reeves suggest that Labour will “reward work”
by ensuring that the contributions people make are properly recognised in the social security system.”
This is a thorny issue. There is certainly merit in looking to see whether those who lose their jobs might temporarily (Reeves mentions 6 weeks) receive a higher rate of benefit to cover that initial period of devastation. Most people do find new work quite quickly, yet are shocked when they learn just how little they get back for, often a lifetime of contributions.

So, for the easiest cases and those closest to a return to the job market, this policy has potential. But as campaigners have always argued, if this contributory reinforcement is made across our social security system, where does it leave those who can never work? Or parents who must take time out to raise children? Or Carers?

So whilst I tentatively welcome a short term boost to unemployment benefits, I hope Labour are looking very carefully at those unable to meet such a “responsibility”.

“The IPPR have today announced that they will be looking at options and costings for increasing the initial rate of Jobseeker's Allowance paid to those who have built up a sufficient record of contribution.

If this can be done in a cost neutral way by extending the period people need to be working and paying national insurance to qualify for contributory JSA it would be a very valuable step forward.

For example, a higher rate of Jobseeker's Allowance paid for the first six weeks of unemployment to those who have lost their jobs after perhaps four or five years in work could be a big help in cushioning the immediate financial impact of redundancy and give them a better chance of getting back into work and back on their feet sooner.

And it would be a powerful way of restoring that understanding of collective insurance against unemployment that was such an important impulse behind Beveridge’s original plan but which today has been all but lost from sight.”
There are undefined commitments to improve the Work Programme
“Under this government we’ve seen a billion pounds paid out to contractors on a scheme that has seen more people return to the Jobcentre than find a job. A Labour government will not be renewing those contracts in 2015-16.

In place of the top-down, bigger-is-better model imposed by this government, our replacement will be jointly commissioned by central and local government, so it can be better integrated with local economic strategies more closely connected to local businesses, and make better use of innovative charities and social enterprises.

You’ll be hearing more from me and the rest of Labour’s Work and Pensions team about this, and the better targeted support we need for key groups such as single parents and disabled people over the months to come."
Within the Spartacus network, we’ve recently completed a far reaching study into the Work Programme, ESA and the future of work for people which we'll be releasing soon. We too recommend that 
“As in so many areas, it is early, preventative intervention that is the best way of making savings over the long term.”
And few Labour supporters will be sorry to hear that
A Labour government will mean new rules to prevent the abuse of zero hours contracts, and the closure of legal loopholes that allow migrant workers to be exploited and used to undercut all workers’ wages and working conditions.

We are developing plans to improve the help that the system gives to older workers who lose their jobs.”
However, on the whole, this speech merely sets out a direction of travel. Perhaps as it took so long to decide what that direction would be, it’s understandable that today, we still see little detail. The speech seems to walk a strange tightrope between genuine solutions and Daily Mail sound-bites. Perhaps that was just the line the shadow work and pensions team hoped to tread.

We have 16 months left until a general election. I fear this speech will do little to reassure those who want to hear real details from Labour on social security and little to convince the general public that Labour will be “tough”. Trying to be all things to all people runs a real risk of ending up meaning nothing to no-one.

However, those with endless patience might decide to wait to hear more. How long they will wait is hard to tell.

You can read the full speech here :


  1. If Reeves had discussed 'exceptions', as it were, today, the Tories and media would've jumped all over her, citing it as proof that they were encouraging the 'something for nothing culture'. Because Reeves hasn't been in the job long, it's difficult to gauge her views on these issues but she does come across as a very reasoned and intelligent woman in interviews (when she's not forced to repeat some of Ed's corny catchphrases).

    I think the problem with such a system as she outlines in her speech is precisely that it would require disabled people and carers etc to suffer OR it would create a level of bureaucracy which would be difficult to navigate. I think you're right in saying that she was treading a fine line between solutions and soundbites. Hopefully, when the policy team finally gets its act together, we'll hear more detail. Progressive policies, not punitive ones, are needed to combat the workfare disaster.

    1. I always worry when other people think they know the strategy as to why a politician has not committed themselves to something. Its not a commitment until you say it is

  2. As always an interesting and enlightening perspective.

    The short-term boost in contributory JSA strikes me as unnecessary and odd. When I was last made redundant almost exactly 3 years ago, the money from contributory JSA was negligible. Ironically I got made redundant 30 days too soon - I had unconsciously read the writing on the wall and taken out private unemployment insurance a month earlier but did not qualify for it because I got made redundant too soon! That would have paid out £2k a month for a year and the premiums were a fraction of my NI contributions. £70pw was irrelevant. Doubling that to £150pw for 6 weeks would have been barely less so. If what was on offer was to move to a Northern European model of unemployment insurance paying out 75%+ of previous salary for several months it would be something to look at (perhaps a tax break for private unemployment insurance). As it is, it is a strange distraction from focusing resources on those who have longer term needs and for whom a small increase in benefits would make a huge difference.

  3. "Most people who find themselves out of work want a job more than anything else. If Labour can guarantee one, it seems reasonable to me that people should be expected to take it – within reason of course."

    Reason is the problem. We know just how reasonable the DWP can be about other people's reasons.

    If the scheme offers decent, useful opportunities then most people will jump at it without having to be compelled. If many people fail to jump at it then perhaps compulsion is being used to cover up a lousy scheme. If only a few people fail to jump at it then we need to understand their reasons, not beat them with a stick.

  4. Here we go, the shiny parts of the policies are being polished and put in the spotlight ready for May 2015. These are the highlights we are hearing about, the bits that sit in the shadows, like an iceberg on the ocean are the bits that need to be stitched together properly, the bits that allow loopholes that people like us fall through.

    I am sorry that people cannot survive on £150 a week for a single person! Try doing a six weeks on nothing! Unemployment insurance is a good thing to pay for if you are working, you can never tell what may happen, but then, that's why we pay National Insurance. If you are getting £2K per month from the insurance company, why should you get JSA?

    Anyone that is receiving that level of insurance payout that claims JSA are acting fraudulently and should be hung to stop the stain on the rest of us!

  5. Rachel Reeves Social Security Speech should have at the start made it quite clear that the long term sick and disabled will no longer be persecuted to their death by ANYONE

    She failed to do that so in reality the rest of what she says is meaningless as her role is to make sure that the lives of the sick and disabled are protected at all times and that they do not fall through the cracks in which lead to their death

    Having said that she would be better then IDS who has no compassion at all for the sick and disabled

    for Rachel Reeves to be taken seriously she will need to be seen to get stuck in on the deaths of the sick and disabled over the past few years and to give a warning out to the DWP staff that errors made which then go on to kill innocent sick and disabled people will be prosecuted in a court of law

    Now to me that sends out a clear signal to everyone in the country that I'm in charge and that is how things are going to be under a new government in 2015

  6. *sigh* I'm sorry, but I want to bash my forehead against a desk reading this. We're still all about JOBS JOBS, SANCTIONS, JOBS! Training doesn't really work when, y'know, Nu-Labour closes schools for ASD children. There have been cuts to speech and language development, mental health, alternative therapies and research for illnesses. So on what planet does this "training OR sanctions" come from if there's school fees, no support for under 25s, reduced training and/or even a vague understanding of various special needs education across the board?

    And then of course there is the whole MORE JOBS issue: again, what we're failing to realise is we're becoming a more automated society, which means we need less people to actually do the work. Witness the Economist article and also the various Computer-World publications: machines are rapidly replacing people in work, especially in industries which were more traditionally held by the working class who certainly didn't have the training or the educational tools to just shift to a new career. Any political party can say "more jobs" because jobs is a buzzword - what really NEEDS to be said (and no political party has the guts) is our whole financial structure and economy needs to shift, and we need to find a new way entirely of doing things, rather than continuously just banging on the same drum with different mallets.

    I'm not seeing anything encouraging in this speech other than what appears to be just a bunch of the same phrases worded in a slightly different way. New boss...same as the old boss.

    Hey ho.

  7. I agree with Oya's Daughter. This is a prescription for past problems, not present and future ones. Strike Reeves out as irrelevant and look elsewhere for genuine solutions. You don't want to get me started on Miliband's absurd 'root and branch' banking reforms either...

  8. "a paid job is not workfare. Most people who find themselves out of work want a job more than anything else. If Labour can guarantee one, it seems reasonable to me that people should be expected to take it – within reason of course."

    It's 'reason' that's the problem - when have any of us experienced JCP/DWP being reasonable? I've claimed JSA as a disabled person, the DEA refused to deal with me after the first couple of weeks, everyone else tried to undermine what disability related provisions the DEA had agreed to (and they were a joke when compared to reality). That's not a system I can trust to be reasonable, and all of that happened under the last Labour government, not the Tories.

    This does raise a wider issue in that DWP have been indoctrinated that we're all skivers for years now, certainly since the election and to a marginally lesser degree since the poisonous Purnell/Aylward/UNUM agreement on using the Bio-Psycho-Social model of disability. No matter how much better the Labour system is (assuming it's better at all), we'll still have many JCP staff who are convinced all disabled people are scroungers. Labour benefits policy needs to include taking a broom to JCP itself, running every customer-facing staffer through proper disability awareness training, and weeding out those who refuse to revise their attitudes. They wouldn't keep on someone who made decisions about the legitimacy of claims based on race or religion, they shouldn't keep on anyone who does that based on disability.

  9. I have a feeling (or a faint hope?) that Labour will gradually announce better policies the closer we get to the election. For obvious reasons they don't want to give the Lynton Crosby Tory Mob any targets to aim at. They have a long way to go, but direction of travel is also important.

  10. How do they intend to fund the cost of the extra IT, Maths and especially English, particularly for speakers of other languages? Local authorities will be inundated for adult education courses which they will not have the resources, financial, staff and classrooms to fulfil

  11. The Labour are appealing to the Right of centre Middle classes who pay lip service to equality and fairness but basically want business as usual. Greed is the root cause and it will destroy the fabric of the nation. If you tell people this, they won't listen... something bad always has to happen before people take note. And usually it has to happen to them personally. If we countenance injustice for one group of people don't complain when other people start getting victimised as well. This is the way these things always go.

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  14. I'm just completely fed up with everything coming out of any politicians mouth! We know that all of them are going to promise us the earth for this year and half of next year - then when they get into power it all suddenly gets dropped. The disabled are discriminated against no matter who is in power - anyone vulnerable is put to one side and those who WORK will be looked after. They are all the same and I'm pished off with it all :(

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