I tend not to blog too much about politics mainly because it’s draining on the soul to write and invariably riles others to read resulting in a lot of angry people. However, having said that, events in the UK over the last week or so have failed to leave me feeling anything but angry and frustrated.
Now, before anyone says “Hey it’s politics, what did you expect?” I know. I should have known better than to believe that politicians would adhere to decent principles of right and wrong. My bad.
So what am I talking about? In this instance the Workfare débâcle that you may have seen mentioned in the press and on Social Media. It all started in February when the Conservative led Coalition Government were found to have acted illegally in forcing claimants of unemployment benefit to work unpaid for large multi-national companies, many of whom were donors to the Conservative Party.
Now, the issue of working for your benefit is a lengthy topic in itself and one I’m not going to focus too much on here other than to say I’m not advocating that those on benefit should just sit back and wait for their weekly payment. For a lot of them getting some work experience is key to getting them into work. Who doesn’t remember the scenario of leaving school and applying for jobs and being told that lack of experience is what prevented you getting a job?
What I do take issue with however is forcing people to work 40 hours a week with no compensation for their time. Currently JSA (Job Seekers Allowance) is £71.00 per week for the majority of adults, not a huge deal of money when you think about it really and certainly not what anyone would expect to receive for working 40 hours a week. Given the unemployment levels in the UK at the moment why would companies like McDonalds, Boots, Superdrug, Argos, Sainsburys and Poundland spend money recruiting and paying staff when they can get free labour from the Government?
I digress, claimants who didn’t or refused to work for free had their benefit sanctioned or in plain English, stopped. This is what the judges at the Royal Courts of Justice found to have been illegal. They stated that Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, had not given unemployed people enough information with regard their rights to appeal against being made to work up to 780 hours unpaid and the penalties they faced should they opt not to do so. The judges ruled that under section 17a of the 1995 Jobseekers Act as amended in 2009, the Secretary of State could not do as he saw fit and had to lay the details of the those programmes before parliament.
OK, so that’s the background. What the Government then decided to do was exactly what you’d expect a bunch of politicians to do. They decided to create a retrospective law that stated the law that Judges said was illegal was now legal. Yes, if you are in power, even if it is partly due to a party led by a leader who happily reneges on his pre-election promises you can just create laws that absolve you of any wrong-doing.
When Silvio Berlusconi did similar things in Italy how we scoffed and raged that such a thing was an abomination. Now the silence is deafening, most notably from the Labour Party leadership. If you can agree that leadership is the right word for it in the first place. Early on the indications were that they would be pushing for Labour MPs to abstain from the vote. Their price for allowing the retrospective law to be rushed through were two concessions 1) that there would be an independent review and 2) those who had their benefit sanctioned would have a right of appeal.
Personally those two things are fairly worthless. Just because a review is carried out doesn’t mean that the results of that review will be used to change anything, especially if it’s critical to the Government’s actions. You can just hear the political jargon fuelled response, something like, “Yeah, the review was carried out and raised some interesting points. We’ll take them into consideration.” only with more waffle and even less sincerity.
As for a right to appeal, voting the law down would have ensured that rather than getting the concession of a right to appeal, the law was drafted fairly in the first place. Sadly the Labour Party leadership did indeed force their MPs to abstain, to the extent that those in senior positions were told abstain or lose your job.
Labour might be in the minority and may not have been able to stop the vote going against them alone but any decent politician, who believed in what their parties principles are, would have worked damn fucking hard to muster the support of other disaffected politicians, from all parties rather than worry that the right-wing media would lambaste them for just opposing the Bill.
My local MP, Stella Creasy, is a Labour and Co-operative member and very active on Twitter. She does good work campaigning against payday loan vendors and was very vocal about interns being paid a living wage rather than working for expenses only. I was disappointed to hear she had abstained so I contacted her to ask for her reasons. Rather than state anything on Twitter she requested people email her for her reasons. I did and here is her response. There’s a lot of waffle to read through to get to her reasons, the 2 concessions.
What Stella fails to say is that as a Shadow Home Affairs Minister, she was one of those given the option to abstain or lose their job in the Shadow Cabinet. So, rather than risk furthering her career she sold out her principles and her constituents who voted her in to speak on their behalf. At least she did acknowledge one thing in her email when she said, “I do not expect you to be satisfied with the detail in this response.” How right she was.
Of course I say she sold out her principles, she may not have done. Many argue that campaigning for interns to get paid a living wage was more for publicity than conviction to the cause, I just can’t accept that you would argue that interns get a living wage yet those in receipt of unemployment benefit should work for much less.
Stella and Liam Byrne may argue that the recent disclosure by a whistleblower that there were targets set to sanction as many people as possible justified the abstention. If anything I feel the knowledge of that only reinforces why the Bill should have been opposed. In my mind the concession of a review means nothing when you have revelations like this which, if true, make the concession worthless.
If you have read this far I applaud you and apologise for ranting. As I said, there is a reason I don’t discuss politics much, which you’ve probably come to understand now. Over the weekend I cut my Labour Party membership card in half, cancelled my monthly direct debit mandate and sent a letter to the Labour Party explaining why I could no longer in good conscience remain a member of a party that acts in this way. I doubt they’ll care but I do.
Resigning from the party also allows me to revert to my natural political state of non-allegiance to any one party. Whilst I’d describe myself as left leaning, there are policies and ideas across the political spectrum I agree with, sometimes they are wildly at odds with each other but I can live with that. It’s for that reason an ex-flatmate described me as a right wing communist.
Feel free to comment below, as long as it’s remotely on-topic it will appear but I won’t be moderating comments every day so don’t get your knickers in a twist if it doesn’t appear straight away.