Labour’s plan for the DWP is not good enough. It must do better.

Jeremy Corbyn and the DWP logo
Steve Topple

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is effectively out-of-control. Poverty, death, and destitution are rife under its watch. But it’s most vicious policy is probably Universal Credit. Sadly, though, the Labour Party’s stance on it is nearly as dangerous as the benefit itself.

The DWP: Labour wringing its hands

As The Canary has documented, Universal Credit is the DWP’s flagship policy; rolling six previous benefits into one. It’s been dogged by controversy and failings, leading for calls for it to be scrapped. It started with Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), and since then, both Unite the Union and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) have also made ‘stop and scrap’ their official stance. But Labour has maintained its position of just committing to ‘pause and fix’ Universal Credit.

Publicly, leading Labour figures like Sadiq Khan say they agree with the principle of Universal Credit. This seems to be the thinking of the party more broadly; that it agrees the welfare state needs to be simplified, and that Universal Credit is the answer. Privately, though, I think there’s a bit more going on.

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There’s no money left!

I suspect Labour is still worried about the well-worn smear of ‘economic illiteracy‘. The hangover from the 2008 financial crisis is probably still giving the party a headache because some mud has stuck from the Tories saying it was Labour’s fault. By committing to scrap Universal Credit, Labour would be flushing up to £15bn (the DWP’s estimated cost of rolling out the benefit) down the toilet. It would then have to flush even more money away by rebuilding the system, again. You can already hear the Tories’ cries of ‘You can’t trust Labour with the economy!’

In reality, you know as well as I do that £15bn, even £30bn, is a fraction of yearly government spending. It’s even less of a fraction of the UK’s GDP. And if Labour feels confident enough to commit £100bn of borrowed money to a new investment bank, pledging to suck up the costs of scrapping Universal Credit is not that big a deal.

Not the party of scroungers

I also think there’s still people within the Labour machinery who worry about the public viewing it as the party of ‘benefits claimants’. And, if I’m honest, I also think there’s some people in the party who don’t give that much of a shit. But if standing up for nearly seven million people who claim benefits is a bad move, then I must be missing a trick.

Also, I believe the party’s thinking that welfare needs to be ‘simplified’ because it’s ‘complex’ is wrong. In this case, ‘simplified’ is right wing, capitalist doublespeak for ‘less welfare spending, more people in work’. People’s lives are ‘complex’ so by its very nature the benefits system will be.

Benefits at the ballot box

So, it would cost some money. Yes, it would put DWP civil servants who support the policy at war with Labour. Sure, the Tories would trash Labour about it. And it’s true, the public might view the party as one of benefit claimants. But I think the return at the ballot box would be worth it. More importantly, I think it may save untold millions from abject misery.

There will be seven million people on Universal Credit once it’s fully rolled out. With 72% of surveyed claimants already saying they’re financially struggling in some way under it, a ‘stop and scrap’ policy may well prove popular. It would also cement disabled people’s trust in the party; something which, after New Labour’s welfare assault and a controversial period under Ed Miliband, is still lacking.

But there’s a more pressing issue than even this. And it’s what would happen if Labour doesn’t stop and scrap Universal Credit.

Short termism

There seems to be little long term thinking among Labour and its supporters. Ask yourself this: will a Labour government with Jeremy Corbyn’s principles be in power longer than three parliamentary terms? Highly unlikely. So by keeping Universal Credit, the party paves the way for the next Tory government to reform it back to an even more insidious form.

We’ve been here before. Labour created the Work Capability Assessment. Now, the Tories have turned it into a highly effective persecution machine. One of the main arguments against a Universal Basic Income is that if a progressive, left wing government introduces it, it’s like a ‘welcome mat’ for the worst aspects of capitalism later down the line. Because neither side of our two-party system is in charge forever.

Society’s nail in the coffin

Universal Credit will be one of the final nails in the coffin of society as we know it. As I previously wrote, it’s a cover to create an underclass of people who are not useful to capitalism and corporations. It’s a Dickensian policy. It pits the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor against each other. Universal Credit forces everyone who can do the smallest amount of work into it. Then, it throws the rest onto the scrapheap. There is no ‘fixing’ something that I’d say its architects’ designed to be broken in the first place.

Labour needs to realise this. Or, it needs to publicly admit it supports this vicious policy. Because there’s no halfway house with Universal Credit. Corbyn, his team, and the party need to sort themselves out. They must openly denounce Universal Credit, then pledge to scrap it. Anything less is just as dangerous as letting it continue.

Get Involved!

– 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.

Featured image via Owen Jones – YouTube and UK government – Wikimedia 

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Steve Topple