Both Labour and Conservatives have announced their social security policies; there's not much difference between them

Both the Conservative and Labour parties have now published their manifestos.  I turned directly to the commitments on social security, or “welfare” as they persist in calling it.   The provisions are scattered through the documents, but roughly speaking the policies set side-by side look  like this.

Labour will: The Conservatives will:
control overall spending freeze working age benefits
keep the welfare cap keep the welfare cap
keep the benefit cap and review whether it should be lower lower the benefit cap to £23,000
introduce a single-tier pension
ratchet up the value of pensions through the “triple lock” ratchet up the value of pensions through the “triple lock
restrict Winter Fuel Payments for the better off protect pensioner benefits including WFP
keep Tax Credits and ‘pause’ the Universal Credit programme deliver Universal Credit
offer higher rate of JSA to people with long term contributions replace JSA for young people with a time-limited Youth Allowance
guarantee a job for long-term unemployed people, and stop benefits to anyone who doesn’t take it create two million jobs and abolish long term youth unemployment
abolish the bedroom tax ban Housing Benefit for young people and EU jobseekers
reform the Work Capability Assessment to focus on support for work Cut benefits to people who do not accept treatment
tackle the root causes of rising spending, by making work pay and building more homes. recognise the root causes of poverty: entrenched worklessness, family breakdown,problem debt, and drug and alcohol dependency

4 comments

  1. Caroline Leclercq

    The Conservatives might be in a mess with “delivering” Universal Credit – it looks as if it has been a costly failure.

  2. David Webster

    Paul, In suggesting that there’s not much difference between Labour and Tory, aren’t you forgetting a few things? Like the £12bn per year of social security cuts which the Tories but not Labour are committed to make – of course the Tory manifesto doesn’t say anything about these as the Tories have refused to indicate what these cuts will mean. Another difference is in the campaign of benefit sanctions against unemployed and sick people. Again, the Tories say nothing about this because they have pretended all along that there is no such campaign. Labour would halt it immediately and has committed to implementing the recent highly critical Work and Pensions Committee report on sanctions in full. One might also make the point that if the Tories succeed in making housing associations sell off their houses, more people will be pushed into the private rented sector, requiring more of the social security budget to go on Housing Benefit (as you yourself pointed out in an earlier post!). With Labour we will not have a Secretary of State who jets off periodically to the USA to boast to the Heritage Foundation that Britain is showing the rest of the world the way to drive people off benefits. The influence of the pestilential Policy Exchange over government policy will immediately fall to a well-deserved zero, to be replaced by organizations such as the TUC, Fabian Society and IPPR. And this is not to mention the rather significant differences between the parties even in the list you give, such as abolition of the bedroom tax (do you really think this is a trivial matter?).

    • Paul Spicker

      There are obviously some differences, David, and it may well be that Labour plans to approach things in a different spirit – but we should be clear that the origins of welfare to work, the Work Capacity Assessment, the shift to means-testing, the work programme and the claimant commitment lie in Labour’s programme of ‘welfare reform’.

  3. David Webster

    Once again, Paul, you are surely going too far in conflating Labour and Tory policy. Welfare to Work did not originate with Labour. The ratcheting up of pressure on the unemployed through ‘active labour market policy’ starting in 1986 and culminating in the Jobseekers Act 1995 was entirely the work of the Tories, as has been the ‘claimant commitment’ (a Policy Exchange idea). Labour’s own approach to Welfare to Work has been very substantially different from that of the Tories. The Tories’ approach has throughout been inspired by the US right, in particular Lawrence Mead and Charles Murray. It has aimed at shrinking the state, and has involved minimum support for the unemployed, maximum aggression towards them, and maximum privatisation of employment services. Labour’s approach had different intellectual origins, mainly in the economic analyses of mistaken but well-meaning British ‘supply-side’ economists, in particular Richard Layard. Labour has provided better funded and more tailored support (most of all in the much-lauded Future Jobs Fund) and certainly cannot be accused of any complicity in the Work Programme, which is an entirely Tory programme completely different to anything run by Labour. Labour’s falling for Layard’s ‘New Deal’ prescription in the mid-1990s was largely a piece of bad luck, in that the Social Justice Commission set up by John Smith completed its work before the results of the 1991 Census were available, so that it failed to comprehend how profound had been the effects of the Thatcherite deindustrialisation over most of Britain. Deindustrialisation had in reality created so much demand-deficiency unemployment and such a large shift on to Invalidity Benefit that ‘supply-side’ labour market policies had been rendered largely irrelevant – but the Commission did not realise it. Subsequently, however, something for which Labour deserves major credit is its reform of official statistics. By creating the independent post of National Statistician it enabled Len Cook to put through his fundamental reforms, establishing the primacy of the ILO measure of unemployment and abolishing the Department of Employment’s dishonest ‘workforce-based’ claimant unemployment statistics which it had been using to support a supply-side view by putting unemployment in the wrong places, severing the connection with loss of industrial employment. As a result virtually no one now denies the effects of the deindustrialisation in creating mass worklessness, which they were freely doing in the 1990s.
    I wouldn’t try to defend the ESA regime, which was indeed a Labour innovation and has proved to be a social policy disaster on a similar scale to Thatcher’s Child Support Agency. But on means-testing, while like you I support universality wherever possible, I would suggest that there is a pretty well inevitable tendency for universality to be extended in times of full employment and to contract when more people need to claim benefits. The opportunity costs of universality are much higher when there is mass worklessness.

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