New Labour: Thinking The Unthinkable - Black Flag

An article from Black about the benefit cuts instigated by the New Labour government.

Prior to the last election, the Tories floated the idea of scrapping Lone Parent Benefit. The newly elected Labour government was expected to restore the benefit, particularly as the new Social Security Secretary Harriet Harman had purported to be opposed to the cut while in opposition. Instead, Labour in office has moved to railroad though the cut and has floated the idea of abandoning disability related benefits like Incapacity Benefit and Disability Living Allowance. The long term aim of Harman and her junior Frank Field is to abandon the existing benefits system completely and replace it with private insurance provision for periods of unemployment and ill health. Among Westminster pundits this has been coded as "Thinking the Unthinkable".

The Guardian columnist Hugo Young highlighted exactly what underpins Labour's attacks on the welfare state; "A greater contribution from every available citizen to improving the gross national product is the vision new Labour is determined on." The Welfare State is a drain on the profits of capital. Labour is identified as the mother of the welfare state and hence is best placed to kill it off. The attack on single parents is an attempt to test the opposition on the road to dismantling the benefits system in its entirety. It's the equivalent of Thatcher taking on the steel workers in preparation for the miners. Labour has tried to argue that they've had to accept the spending plans of the previous government, and that this cut is part of the outgoing chancellor's spending plans, but that won't even wash with old right-wingers like Roy Hattersley any more. Hattersley thinks that Labour are prepared to "tough it out" to show that "the middle classes and their values are safe in our hands... New Labour will stand firm against the debilitating forces of care and compassion." Labour can afford to ignore Hattersley and the 47 MPs who voted against the cut to single parent benefit because the size of their majority makes any opposition through Parliament meaningless.

The new Labour government is committed to the defence of inequality. Cuts in benefits and the imposition of student fees are a direct result of Labour's determination to protect Middle England from the threat of increased taxation. So Gordon Brown can dismiss the idea of an increase in benefit levels as a means to tackle poverty, while Blair can defend millionaire Cabinet member Geoffrey Robertson when it is revealed that he has set up offshore trusts to avoid UK tax liability. Labour is committed to the redistribution of wealth from poor to rich as much as their Tory predecessors. "Welfare reform" means an end to "welfare dependency" not an end to poverty. The most significant aspect of Labour's attack on welfare is the element of compulsion. When the Tories introduced the Job Seekers Allowance it marked a step towards conditional benefits - a move towards workfare. Workfare is a key component of Labour's attack on the welfare state - the welfare to work scheme for young people is harsher than anything dreamed up by the Tories. It offers claimants two choices - work for benefit level wages or starve. Further, promoting a political consensus around the notion of welfare dependency allows the government to get off the hook of its failure to live up to its promises out of office. Months before his election Blair told reporters "If the next Labour government has not raised the standards of living of the poorest by the end of its term in office it will have failed". Given that Labour has committed itself to low public spending, low taxation and low inflation, job creation in any meaningful sense is not on the agenda. Restoration of the massive cuts in public spending of the last 18 years is a pipe dream. But - if the poor are idle because they are idle - not because capitalism has no use for them, if people turn to crime not because they can't live on the benefit levels available to them, but because they are criminal scum, Blair can keep his middle class acolytes happy that his hands are clean, while Jack Straw's "Zero Tolerance" of the poor, the homeless, minorities, can be extended to all aspects of society.

In August 1996 the Spectator columnist Bruce Anderson wrote, "We have expressly constructed slums full of layabouts and sluts whose progeny are two legged beasts. We cannot cure this by family religion and self help. So we will have to rely on repression."

On 20th April 1997 the Guardian reported Blair as decreeing that there should be no improvements in benefit levels so that life on benefit should be less attractive.

We should recognise that Blair and Anderson differ from each other only in degree of language, not in method. Welcome to the New World Order.

Posted By

Fozzie
Aug 13 2020 09:52

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Black Flag magazine


  • The most significant aspect of Labour's attack on welfare is the element of compulsion.

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