More missed anti-workfare opportunities

Perhaps it is unreasonable of me to ask people in the public eye to risk their street cred on an untried attack on workfare, but last week there were three opportunities where

Dynamic Benefits (2009)

could have been used to discredit Iain Duncan Smith’s Poor Law (Workfare instead of Workhouse) Resurrection Bill: debates in both the Lords and the Commons on Tuesday (19th), and Natalie Bennett on BBC Question time last Friday. In all three, defenders of social justice put cogent arguments as to why the government was misguided, unjust and heartless, but none of them disturbed the usual answers that came back. On Tuesday (19th) The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds proposed amendments in the House of Lords to the Welfare Benefits Uprating bill intended to protect child benefits and child tax credits from the 1% cap on benefits.

Most of the opposition to these amendments focussed on the alleged cost of not cutting benefits to the poor. See for example the following passage in support of the government. (In passing, the cost of the Bishop’s amendments would have been £0.9 Billion, not the £3 Billion alleged here):

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (For the government): Apart from a suggestion that it might be possible to find the money by pursuing tax evaders, there was no indication of where the £3 billion needed to provide uprating in line with inflation-assuming the Government’s forecasts are correct-could be found. That is deeply irresponsible and it is particularly irresponsible of an Opposition who will not say what they would do in government. In other words, while it is not their responsibility, their line is “You should spend the money”, but when it might be their responsibility, they are not prepared to say what they would do. Although the noble Lord and his party quite rightly point to the excesses in the City arising from bonuses, and so on, they seem to forget that 52% of those obscene bonuses come back in tax and national insurance. Actually, it is more, because there is an employers’ contribution of 12%, so 64% of those bonuses come back to the Treasury in revenues. The name of the game here is to increase revenues to the Treasury. Then we will be in a position to do something about welfare.

In his reply to the debate, the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds pointed out that suggestions had been made as to how the £0.9 billion could be better raised, but he did not make the point that means testing is a disguised, but very real tax on everybody, which is massive on small incomes, and negligible on large incomes. At least as relevant to the missing £0.9 Billion, this tax should be borne by higher incomes. In addition to Dynamic Benefits, I could have referred the Bishop to my post on 7th December ‘”Citizens’ Income not Tax Allowances” which explains how tax reliefs help the rich more than the low paid they are supposed to be for. The pity is that the Bishop has already read my book, but in the context of sustainability, not welfare benefits. I did try to contact him before the debate, but he is a busy man, and I do not think he reads blogs or tweets.

Caroline Lucas spoke and voted in the Commons debate on the appalling decision by the government to force through the reversal of a court decision refunding money to claimants, and the even more staggering acquiescence of the Labour Party. Ed Miliband is even quoted as saying “There are people who won’t try to find work at all” But I must repeat, this preposterous decision, and the speeches in support of the government were given a cover of respectability because of the unacknowledged eminence grise – the fact that any simple defence of benefits is by implication demanding a return to means testing, which could justify Miliband’s remark. If no better ideas are forthcoming, Iain Duncan Smith is quite right to get rid of means testing his way.

Caroline says she will not mention the Citizens’ Income until full costings are available. But Dynamic Benefits does not mention it. She could have quoted passages from that IDS inspired report to destroy his case.

IDS is incapable of thinking outside the box of work, hence workfare, even though this makes no sense at a time of limited jobs. Miliband is evidently no better. A news report explaining the Universal Credit:

explains it in in matter-of fact terms. This should be out of the question.

But I know that behind her understandable caution being in the public eye, Caroline shares my vision of a sustainable economy within the Earth’s physical limits, where full time jobs may well be limited for long periods. Starting from now detailed Citizens’ Income figures would look politically impossible. But the logic of that devastating critique of means testing handed to us on a plate in the first part of Dynamic Benefits will lead inexorably to the Citizens’ Income, especially in the Green context. The unravelling this weekend of the Universal Credit pilot schemes makes it all the more topical and urgent.

Natalie’s opportunity on BBC Any Questions last Friday was more oblique. The question was on Osborne’s Budget. But I still live in hope that Natalie will start to quote Dynamic Benefits. She will get plenty more opportunities.

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