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Labour’s despicable secret deal

It now emerges that Labour did a secret deal with the DWP that the latter would set up an independent inquiry into the use of sanctions against job-seekers in return for Labour supporting emergency legislation – the Jobseekers (Back-to-Work Schemes) Bill which passed all its stages in the Commons last Tuesday – which established the government’s right to re-impose mandatory work activity (forcing someone to work for no pay on pain of otherwise having their benefits withdrawn) which had been struck down in the High Court a few weeks earlier.

If this is true, it is a despicable deal: Labour should never have supported the re-imposition of such legislation whatever the quid pro quo. Worse still, Labour has already sold the pass in exchange for a nebulous offer which remains entirely within the gift of the government. It’s the government which will decide the terms of reference, choose the chair and members for the inquiry, decide the timescale, and decide whether or not to accept any of the recommendations, assuming we ever get to that stage.

Just what the government is now getting away with is revealed by a leaked email which shows that jobcentres have been set targets and league tables to enforce a stricter benefit regime on claimants, despite Ministers giving assurances to parliament on Tuesday that no such targets were being set. The email indicated that staff would be disciplined if they failed to force enough claimants on to a tougher benefit regime. Specifically it is made clear in this fiat from the DWP that there should be about 25 referrals a week for tougher sanctions when the average referral rate in some job centres at present is in the range of 4-6.

This is part of a much wider attack on employment rights across the baord. Despite the proposals for no-fault unfair dismissals from the Wonga boss Adrian Beacroft being initially rejected because of the hug public outcry against them, they are now being quietly re-introduced by the government in the form of measures which make it harder for workers to get work-place justice at employment tribunals, extend the qualifying period to gain employment rights to 2 years, and cut the consultation period on redundancies from 90 to 45 days. At the same time the Tory Right is demanding the repatriation of powers from the EU in order to end protection for agency and temporary workersas well as the scrapping of the Working Time Directive.

Just as the government’s austerity measures are not primarily about cutting the deficit but rather about shrinking the public sector and the State, so the attack on employment rights isn’t about a more efficient economy but rather about crushing the trade unions. If Labour doesn’t now take a stand and fight back hard, it will lose its core support and have no right to call itself a party of social justice.


  1. Dave says:

    After last week I imagine the champagne corks must have been popping at Progress HQ: over 200 Progress MPs voted not to oppose the Tories, just more than 40 Labour MPs voted against the Tories.

    As far as Progress is concerned it’s mission accomplished.

  2. John p Reid says:

    If this article is right and labour had managed via the Dwp, to get what they wanted, then it was right that the champagne corks were popping before the vote

  3. Tom Blackburn says:

    Actually it appears that all Labour have managed to achieve so far is a 12-month review – in other words, the DWP are still sticking two fingers up to the unemployed even after the Labour leadership helped them to cover their collective backside when they were caught out breaking the law.

    The leadership’s utter capitulation over workfare was a scandal and won’t be forgotten in a hurry. Those MPs who voted against deserve real credit for staying true to their principles, though, and not just caving in to the Tories – which appears to be the default option for the Labour leadership in far too many instances.

    It really isn’t good enough that the two weakest performers in the shadow cabinet are at work and pensions and education – the country needs a robust opposition in these areas and we’re not getting it.

  4. Simon Deville says:

    Unfortunately some MPs don’t even have the shame to keep this a ‘secret deal’. My own MP was using the deal as an excuse to try and justify her abstention.

  5. Tom Blackburn says:

    Looks like the Labour leadership haven’t even managed to secure an inquiry into the use of sanctions targets, because the Lords have thrown it out:

    Is there anyone out there who doesn’t think this review is going to be a stitch-up? What does the Labour leadership think it’s going to get out of it?

  6. Karen Springer says:

    Just a question. Do you mean that Labour did a deal with IDS’ team, or with DWP civil servants?

    (I’m not trying to be awkward, but I’m wondering about this because if it is the latter group, then there are some interesting implications for civil service neutrality.)

    Thank you.

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