The party of labour needs to put work at the centre of its welfare reforms


Related Topics

In raw political terms, the fact that voters hold Labour accountable by a margin of ten to one for the size of the benefits bill is about as about politically toxic as it gets.

The poll finding, in our forthcoming pamphlet ‘Labour’s manifesto uncut: How to win in 2015 and why’, shows the scale of Labour’s real challenge, underneath its broad opinion poll lead.

Over half of those who think welfare spending is too high (54 per cent) blame Labour, with only five per cent pointing the finger at the coalition.

Meanwhile 45 per cent trust Cameron to control welfare spending and prevent it rising out of control, compared to 14 per cent who back Ed Miliband.

This gap goes to the heart of Labour’s credibility as a party of government, so narrowing it must be a strategic priority.

But the problem goes deeper than simply convincing floating voters Labour is tough but fair on social security costs. The entire collectivist model underpinning the welfare state is now on the table.

Let’s be clear: the creation of the benefits system is probably Labour’s greatest achievement. It relies on an altruistic appeal to voters, encouraging them to pay into a system that they themselves draw less out of. Convincing them to carry on doing so should give social democrats sleepless nights.

Our polling shows that 44 per cent of people think the benefits bill is “too high” with only 35 per cent saying it is “about right” or “too low.” So much, then, for people rising up against the government’s benefits changes.

In fact, research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has also found a marked shift from voters accepting ‘societal’ explanations of poverty towards them blaming individuals for their circumstances. Back in 1994, just fifteen per cent of the public thought people lived in need because of laziness or lack of willpower. Nearly a quarter, (23 per cent), think so today.

If we are to future-proof the welfare state against this hardening of attitudes we need to manage costs and transform it into a nurturing state, specifically focused around getting people into paid work and keeping them there for the vast majority of their adult lives.

In doing so, Labour has two problems to grapple with. The first is agreeing what it is fair and reasonable to expect from people in terms of the economic contribution they make versus the entitlements they draw. The second is determining what is needed and legitimate from the state and employers to support those in work.

On the first problem, Labour needs to articulate a new golden rule on welfare. Apart from the disabled and most vulnerable, work is expected. It is the duty of all adults to put their shoulder to the wheel. Work is normal.

At the moment, the public don’t think the party of labour has the workers’ interests at heart. In fact 41 per cent of trade unionists agree that the benefits bill is too high.

But if people have an obligation to work, the state and business have new obligations too. The government has to get serious about helping meet childcare costs which, for many working families, are simply crippling.

The Daycare Trust and Family and Parenting Institute’s Childcare Costs Survey for 2013, shows nursery, childminder and after-school club costs all rising at twice the rate of inflation, while a nursery place now costs 77 per cent more in real terms than it did in 2003. Quite simply, the government needs to go a lot further in picking up the tab. 

Equally, businesses have a responsibility to pay for the skills of their workers, with a third of companies, according to the Commission for Employment and Skills, paying nothing for training. A compulsory training levy would be one way of levelling the paying field for good employers.

Labour is already beginning to make the case for a tougher approach to work and welfare, reflecting the realities of public opinion, but does so intermittently and usually behind a cupped hand. 

The risk is that a dangerous gap emerges between Labour’s residual paternalism towards welfare claimants and the altogether harsher centre of gravity of the electorate overall. Saving the noble, collectivist principles of the system depends on Labour stopping this rot in public trust.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut. 'Labour’s manifesto uncut: How to win in 2015 and why' is launched on September 23 at the PragRad Fringe at Labour conference

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Service Manager - Franchised Dealership

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative / Forklift Driver

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Through a combination of excell...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are looking for a ...

Recruitment Genius: Service Plan Champion

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a Service Plan Champi...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Daily catch-up: the Labour leadership election hasn’t yet got to grips with why the party lost

John Rentoul
Kennedy campaign for the Lib Dems earlier this year in Bearsden  

Charles Kennedy: A brilliant man whose talents were badly needed

Baroness Williams
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific