The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has taken a battering at the Labour Party conference. But it didn’t come from an MP. The DWP’s annihilation came from a member, and he made a better job of it than the shadow work and pensions secretary.
The DWP: skewered
James Colwell from Durham was giving his first ever speech at conference. And he chose to use it not only to attack the DWP, but to highlight its controversial new benefit, Universal Credit.
Colwell broke with the party line of ‘pause and fix’ on Universal Credit. Instead he said:
Universal Credit has been a radical reform in the wrong direction. It has created a hostile environment, and it has forced individuals to walk a tightrope between poverty and destitution
But then Colwell delivered the knock-out blow, which probably left shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood squirming. He said:
Universal Credit does not just need to be reformed… but in my opinion needs to be scrapped.
Cheers and applause followed:
But as campaigner I was a JSA claimant showed in a Twitter Moment, Colwell wasn’t the only speaker saying ‘stop and scrap’. Other delegates called for Labour to bin it, as well.
Labour: a tricky and lukewarm position
This must have put Greenwood and the Labour leadership in a tricky spot. Because, as The Canary previously reported, there has been an ongoing campaign to push Labour into pledging to scrap Universal Credit. But when push came to shove, Labour flunked – and kept its ‘pause and fix’ stance.
Not only this, but Greenwood’s speech and promises were tepid, at best.
There wasn’t much detail, but a lot of rhetoric and cuddly language. You’d be forgiven for thinking Labour hasn’t done much work on welfare policy since the 2017 election. And the main pledge – that Labour “will scrap the Tories’ punitive sanctions regime in its entirety” – was a carbon copy of what the manifesto said.
But as campaigner Frank Zola pointed out, this doesn’t necessarily mean ending the sanctions regime:
Yeah, that's understood. But only from a 'policy geek' perspective. Clearly suggests to me pre-2010/2012 sanctions regime was NOT "punitive" or "austere" (strict or severe) Current rate of #BenefitSanctions lower than @ 2010 Simple Q to @UKLabour R all #BenefitSanctions punitive? pic.twitter.com/pyULwnAByY
— Frank Zola (@mrfrankzola) September 24, 2018
Academic and writer Sue Jones agreed:
The have said they would ban all of the newer type sanctions introduced since 2012. The problem is that newspapers tend to miss out details, even when they are there
— Revolution Breeze #PCPEU (@suejonessays) September 24, 2018
And Greenwood admitted as much to the Mirror, in an interview during which she also said the benefits freeze would end. The freeze has seen unemployed people and others get no increase in money since 2016 despite inflation rising. It will have put 500,000 more people, many of them unemployed, into poverty by 2021. But oddly, Greenwood did not mention ending it during her actual speech.
Outflanked by a lad from Durham
Meanwhile, some on social media gave a lukewarm response to Greenwood’s tepid speech:
We know… It wasn’t good enough.
— Charlotte Hughes (@charlotteh71) September 24, 2018
It's obviously a major disappointment that Labour did not have the courage to vote on a motion to stop and scrap #UniversalCredit, but take a small amount of solace in these delegates who did @Dis_PPL_Protest @paulapeters2 @AnitaBellows12 @MrTopple @WOWpetition @charlotteh71 https://t.co/JK8xZuUxEa
— I was a JSA claimant (@imajsaclaimant) September 24, 2018
But still position of UC pause and fix and the impact of that is going to be chilling in next 12 months
— paula peters (@paulapeters2) September 24, 2018
It’s a funny old world when an unknown lad can outflank a shadow secretary of state. But with a welfare policy like Labour’s, it wasn’t a hard ask. With the party reportedly on a general election footing, its lack of thinking on benefits should be of great concern. Maybe Jeremy Corbyn should give young Mr Colwell a call. He was certainly more on point than Greenwood.
– Check out the #DWPcrimes, #ScrapUniversalCredit and #CrimesOfDWP hashtags on Twitter. Support the blogs Universal Credit Sufferer and The Poor Side of Life. Get involved with Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), fighting for disabled people’s rights.