Labour is buying into the right-wing narrative around Universal Credit claimants – what’s new?
Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth has claimed that if only the Tories had cracked down even further on people who receive benefits, the resulting extra money could have gone towards more cost of living payments. His statement about the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and benefits like Universal Credit, shows just how far to the right Labour has drifted.
On Tuesday 11 April, Ashworth tweeted that the DWP has “lost billions of pounds to fraud”:
Blundering Tory ministers have lost billions of pounds to fraud in the DWP.
It would be enough to give hard pressed families a £300 extra cost-of-living payment.
The Tories fritter away taxpayers money while working families struggle to get by.
— Jonathan Ashworth (@JonAshworth) April 11, 2023
He also linked to an article in the Mirror. It claimed that the DWP:
overpaid an eye-watering £8.5billion across all benefits – excluding the state pension – between 2021-22.
At the Canary, we have extensively covered Universal Credit and the struggles many people go through. The point Labour is making is complete rubbish – here’s why.
There are no jobs
First up is the of idea ‘benefit fraud’. One horrible narrative that’s plagued the mainstream media is that those on welfare are somehow ‘creaming off the system’ and ‘we need to crack down’ on them. For example, the government started a new scheme for jobseekers who claim Universal Credit. It will see the DWP sanction claimants if they don’t commit to intensive job search activities.
Yet the DWP ignores the fact that that there’s a mismatch between the number of people out of work and the number of job vacancies that are available. As the Canary previously reported in March:
The latest available figures show that there were 1.43 million people looking for work in August 2022. At the same time, the number of job vacancies was 1.22m.
This means that there aren’t enough jobs, and Universal Credit is the only safety net for many who can’t find work. This isn’t a choice to simply sit at home and ‘live for free’. In fact, contrary to the bullshit narrative that those on welfare are having an easy, free ride, around 40% of those who claim Universal Credit are actually in work.
So for those who can and do work, that work doesn’t pay enough to live on.
Yet Labour is providing no opposition to this utter monstrosity of a system. Instead, it’s playing into the extremely right-wing framing that there’s money to be saved from benefit claims.
Deadly DWP crackdowns
Those numbers don’t even include claimants that are “economically inactive” – meaning those who are just too ill to work. Yet this government is hell-bent on getting more people into work, even if they fall under this category, which has deadly consequences. As the Canary previously reported:
In the previous decade, thousands of people have died after the DWP said they were fit for work – in some cases taking their own lives.
On top of this, what we do know about the tragedies that follow on from crackdowns on those who are declared fit for work – but who clearly are not – had to be forced out of the DWP.
As [John] Pring [at independent media outlet Disability News Service] reported, for years the DWP had refused to publish WCA [Work Capability Assessment] figures for Universal Credit. However, after DNS complained to the government regulator the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR), this changed. Pring noted that the OSR wrote to the DWP saying that:
its failure to publish universal credit WCA statistics left “a gap in the information available” and that there was a “wealth of evidence around the need for transparency around Universal Credit WCA statistics”.
Things are so awful that the government has tried to keep this information hidden.
But it doesn’t end there.
Universal Credit: staff bonuses for sanctions
The system is co cruel that the DWP has set targets for staff at Jobcentres. As the Canary previously wrote, the department:
is once again going to threaten Universal Credit claimants with sanctions. This will happen if they don’t follow new rules around finding work. Worse still, DWP staff will be given bonuses for getting more benefits claimants into work.
Effectively, the DWP is incentivising its Jobcentre advisors to push as many claimants as possible into any job possible. This is regardless of whether the work is right or the claimant can even do it.
Worse off than pre-pandemic
With the state the DWP is in, it’s also true that claimants are already worse off than they were years ago: The Canary previously wrote that:
Think tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has crunched some numbers. It’s worked out how much April’s benefits increase is actually worth when you factor in price rises (inflation). This is called “real terms”. The chaos with inflation has hit the poorest people the hardest…
[It says] DWP benefits rates won’t get back to pre-pandemic levels until April 2025. So, claimants will constantly be worse off until then.
So why is Labour talking about saving money in welfare when:
- We know that people are worse off than before the pandemic?
- The DWP’s ‘cost saving exercise’ is literally killing people?
The Labour Party is pitting working-class people against each other. It thinks it can win votes by creating a false narrative that some working people are missing out because of others on benefits.
The party has moved rightward, with the excuse being that it needs to appeal to more voters in order to win. Some will say that any Labour government is better than a Tory one. Yet for those who are too ill to work, those who have a disability, or for those who are struggling to find jobs, are they any safer?
Labour is supposed to stand up for people in this situation and defend them from the Tories. Yet the party has shown that it cares just as much about poor people as the Tories do – that is, not at all.
This framing Labour has bought into is disgusting. It shows that if the party does come into power, those that are struggling the most are still set to lose.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons/Richard Townshend, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license, resized to 770*403
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