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Means-testing winter fuel payments is another Labour own goal

Ed-Balls-008Ed Balls didn’t have to say it. It will save a piffling amount of money relative to the size of the budget deficit which is still plateaued at £122bn. Inasmuch as it’s a Tory-style policy, it’s doing the Tories’ dirty work for them. And it’s another nail (admittedly not the first or the only one) in the coffin of universalism. So why did Balls do it?

The Blairites at the PLP commended it on the grounds that it showed that Labour was quite capable of taking ‘tough’ decisions! As though trying to out-tory the Tories will bring the voters flocking in, or as though pre-empting what the Tories were probably going to do anyway (since it’s already been talked about extensively in Tory circles) is really smart politics. The honest truth is it just confirms that the toxic New Labour brand is still there in the Labour Party and that the view already widely held, that there’s really not much difference between the two parties, is right.

What is really needed is an honest critique of a welfare system that has been distorted out of all recognition by successive Tory and Labour governments. The fundamental problem is that the Beveridge Welfare State was never designed to deal with sky-high unemployment (from 3.2 million in 1986 to 2.6 million today), nor with the steady erosion of the contributory principle leading to a massive extension of means-testing, nor with the huge shifting of 1.6m unemployed on to Incapacity Benefit to prevent the true level of the unemployed at over 4 million being exposed, nor yet again the enforced shifting by Atos of over a million disabled people on to the work rolls when virtually no jobs are available. Several steps are now needed to deal with this drastically degraded system:

  • The first and fundamental requirement for social security policy is a central government commitment to full employment. This requires re-balancing the economy (for real, not just talking about it as Osborne does), prioritising a major manufacturing renewal, restructuring the banks to serve the British national interest and not purely their own, and using the public sector to kickstart the economy.
  • In order to minimise means-testing, the contributory principle should be re-introduced across the range, yielding a fully paid-for benefit entitlement at a level above the means-test poverty line, and for pensions this would require the gradual re-introduction of a comprehensive State pension scheme for which Barbara Castle’s SERPS scheme offers an excellent precedent.
  • For the working population, in order to ensure that periods of unemployment are as short as possible, all medium-sized and large-scale companies should be levied to provide skills-training and funding for re-location where necessary.

If Ed Miliband can spell out a scheme along these lines in his speech on welfare later this week, it would go a long way to retrieve the disillusionment from Ed Balls’ speech yesterday.


  1. john lynch says:

    This statement by Ed symbolises some major wider concerns;

    a) an implicit acceptance of the neo-Liberal pro austerity agenda.

    b) the announcement of policy without reference to Party members ie with no thought of accountability

  2. Rob says:

    I think it’s easy to see through and if I can see it so can others.

    Ball’s can be trusted on the deficit and Labour’s not in the pockets of the Unions, sadly the Unions these day are no better then Labour.

    Not a party of opposition these days but a party battling for a smaller and smaller electorate, three parties basically offering the same.

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