What Natalie can do to stop workfare

My blogs stress the importance of the Citizens’ Income in the workfare debate. Natalie Bennett thinks it is a good idea, but she never mentions it in her public statements on behalf of the Green Party. The only reason she has given (I have not yet had the opportunity to discuss this with her) is that there are long term and short term issues, and for now she must focus on the here and now. In the first place, this has been the Party line for its 40 years’ existence: the Citizens’ Income has always been there – in the small print ‘for now’. I understand this attitude. In fact, were it not for this government’s hateful as well as imbecile campaign against the weakest and most vulnerable I was beginning to accept that a political party was not the right place to get a CI off the ground. I remain a loyal Green Party foot soldier, but I am close to giving it up as a bad job as the vehicle for this crucial idea now that weblogs have been invented.

But Natalie, it is urgent. I am a little disappointed (though again, I understand) with the reaction of the antiworkfare activists



to the CI. They too say it is a good idea, but not yet, or do it as a separate campaign. Some comments miss the point and say the obvious – that this government, is not listening. If they were, they would have taken down Dynamic Benefits (2009)


to which I lose no opportunity to draw attention. I check every once in a while to see if they have removed it. If they ever do, we can really go to town.

The problem is that if all you do is demand a return to the status quo ante,  then shorn of the more puerile ‘strivers and skivers’ gibes, the government’s approach makes sense to the uncommitted public not immediately threatened by an ATOS interview, the Bedroom Tax or no benefits if they do not accept unpaid work. These are the people we need to reach. Dynamic Benefits spells out very clearly that the withdrawal of means tested benefits is a massive tax on low incomes. You can respond in one of two ways: shift that tax on to higher incomes, or instead focus on the work disincentive and just remove the benefits. Iain Duncan Smith’s ‘Universal Credit’ purports to be an attempt to do the first, though it falls short even of the limited proposals in Dynamic Benefits. With six workless on average nationally chasing every job available, it should seem utterly senseless to pit the disabled against the able bodied with draconian sanctions for failing to look hard enough for work. But it doesn’t strike those not affected as senseless because of the work disincentive. It is not absolutely necessary to mention the Citizens’ Income per se, but the attack on the government would be much more potent with the principle involved. No need to go into details, or costings. Just repeatedly draw attention to Dynamic Benefits, and ask the public what they think of the government’s Poor Law response to the problem Dynamic Benefits exposes. All that Natalie and the anti-workfare activists need do is publicise Dynamic Benefits, again and again, this time pressing the ‘massive tax’ angle.

As Natalie knows, I have a motion on this topic at the Green Party Conference in a fortnights’ time. I hope that before then we are singing from the same hymn sheet. If we aren’t, then there is the risk that my efforts, if successful, could become a thorn in Natalie’s flesh, and that is not the intention.

Most of my blogs have concentrated on workfare, and will continue to do so as long as this is government policy. But I must keep giving gentle reminders that my aims, and indeed those of the Green Party, are (or should be) much wider. The pity is that if Natalie dare grasp the ‘Citizens’ Income’ nettle, it opens the way to our vision of a sustainable, socially just society.

Just one final tip. At no point has Natalie seriously questioned the idea of economic growth as automatic and essential. Apologies if she can prove me wrong. But I bet she has never said:

“Most people think the economy is more important than the environment. I think the economy depends on the environment”.

One day, Natalie, Zac Goldsmith and johnnyvoid will all be on the same side. I wonder if I will live to see it.

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