The Socialist 10 December 2008 |
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Welfare 'reform' - fight these attacks
The 'reforms' to welfare benefits announced in the Queen's Speech last week are an attack on some of the poorest people and families. They are more evidence that the government will make the poor pay for the economic crisis.
Income support will be abolished and almost everyone not in a job will have to claim Job Seekers Allowance (JSA).
JSA is a pittance. It is currently £60.50 a week for over 25 year olds, yet according to the TUC, the minimum income needed by a single adult, excluding rent, child care and alcohol, is £153 a week.
Incapacity Benfit is being replaced by Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) with the aim of reducing claimants by one million. And this is after the government has closed Remploy factories that employed thousands of disabled workers. ESA will provide less income than incapacity benfit in most cases.
There are rarely sanctions on employers who consistently discriminate against the disabled and against pregnant women, and who refuse to offer flexible working hours. Neither are sanctions used against energy companies that refuse to cut household energy bills even though oil prices have dropped.
But anyone not complying with benefit rules (eg not attending interviews) will face cuts in their benefits by up to 40%, which will cause severe hardship.
Even those over 60 will have to attend 'work focused interviews' to receive benefits. Those deemed guilty of fiddling benefits could face lie detector tests, which have not been proved reliable.
The unemployed will be expected to search for jobs from nine to five each day or do 'community service' for their benefits, work that should only be offered at a decent level of pay.
Such attacks would be unjust in an economy going forward but are extremely vindictive at the beginning of a severe recession. A further 6,800 job losses in Britain were announced last Friday and more are going every week.
Those who have spent years out of the workplace due to caring for children or illness will be competing with millions of recently unemployed workers who have up-to-date skills and recent experience.
Already, lone parent claimants with a youngest child aged 12 or over are being put on jobseekers' allowance and are expected to look for work or face sanctions. This will apply to those with a youngest child of seven or over by 2010. James Purnell, secretary of state for work and pensions, is also intending to force lone parents to 'prepare for work' when their youngest child is just one year old, or face cuts in benefits.
Some leading politicians, including Labour's Frank Field and the Tories' Iain Duncan Smith, have even argued that there should be a limit on the number of children that single mothers can have "on the state".
Many out-of-work lone parents would appreciate education and training and would like to take up jobs, but they need affordable and quality child care and hours to suit. A significant number of lone parents have had to leave work due to the high cost or unavailability of child care, low pay and high travel costs - sometimes finding themselves worse off than on benefits.
The government's draconian proposals will cause insurmountable difficulties for many lone parents. Those who wish to stay at home to care for their children should not be forced to work; nevertheless, if jobs on decent wages were available to them, many more would choose to work than can at present.
Parnell's proposals also include the privatisation of key welfare and benefit services to enable the private sector to make a profit. The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) is fighting against this.
The PCS and other trade unions, charities and a number of Labour MPs are opposing the entire welfare white paper, but Tory support will ensure plenty of votes in parliament.
Won by the working class
The welfare state was fought for by trade unionists and socialists who wanted an end to destitution caused by being thrown out of work or getting ill. However, once won, capitalist governments will always periodically attempt to rein in and attack such achievements, which is why the working class has to constantly defend and improve its gains and rights. Cuts and privatisation, already rife during the previous boom period, will now continue during a recession as capitalist profits are prioritised further over a decent welfare state. Once again the poor are being blamed for their poverty by a government acting in the interests of big business.
Trade unions must fight against these proposals and ensure that workers currently unemployed and those who are made redundant do not face low benefits and penalties. They should demand that the government takes over industries threatening redundancies, so that the tide of job losses can be stopped.
Also we must demand that benefits are increased to a level that reflects the cost of living, with claimants who are able to work being offered jobs on decent pay; or free training or free education; all with low cost, high quality child care, and all with no compulsion.