THE BLOG

How Labour Can Win the Welfare Debate

08/01/2013 15:47 GMT | Updated 09/03/2013 10:12 GMT

Welfare and welfare reform is one of those areas of political debate that is bedeviled by mass, mainly media-driven, ignorance. Politicians are far from guiltless in this Hall of Shame. On all sides of the House they connive in the production of mass hysteria which tell us that there are armies of evil 'scroungers' just itching to fleece us, the honest taxpayer, out of their hard earned cash. It is hard to have a rational debate about the issue because its infused from the start with a high dosage of irrational prejudice fueled by entirely rational hidden agendas.

Let's start with the unemployed. Most people want to work, in fact, the vast majority of people

claiming out of work benefit will want to work; there is, and this probably can be proven scientifically proven, only so many times you can watch Jeremy Kyle and other mind-numbing daytime TV without your brain actually rotting. If they don't then structural issues can play a role in this attitude, whole communities have literally been drivenout of the labour marketplace by policies that have restructured the economy pursued by successive governments but have as their deeper motivator the onward march of globalisation. This is not to say they aren't people who literally are feckless and are consciously putting themselves in a position of being welfare dependent. Undoubtedly there are. However, the number of these people that actually exist is literally tiny and by making their number larger than it actually is the media and political classes are either being willfully stupid or consciously duplicitous.

The reality of the modern welfare state is however, when it comes to the rest of the array of benefit recipients, most are in-work and struggling. This is kind-of ironic because the group who are most receptive to the 'scrounger' hate message are precisely these self-same people, people who do a hard days graft but it barely keeps their head above water. Understandably so on one level, when you work a 40+ hour week and you can still barely get-by its not surprising resentment starts to simmer somewhere along the road. Also, they tend to be much more depedent on welfare themselves than they would ever like to publicly admit.

In spewing venom at the out of work poor though people such as this are missing the point and actually committing a stupefying act of self-harm. It is not the unemployed that have presided over steadily declining wages nor rapidly increasing private sector rents and prices in general. Part of winning this debate therefore for Labour is a multi-pronged strategy which brings incomes and prices into greater sync by controlling the latter and inflating the former. Labour should be the party of getting people into work and making work pay. In this way, Labour can tackle the causes of welfare decadency amoung those people lower down the income food chain and therefore cut the welfare bill in a totally humane way. I find it absurd that people think left-wingers like spending loads of money on welfare. I dont. It means large numbers of people are out of work and struggling to make ends meet and therefore need state support. I am thoroughly opposed to these things and would love to eliminate them and therefore cut the cost of welfare down to the bone.

However, more than that will be required to win the war of words on welfare. The strategy of the Conservative Party relies on prolonging and deepening the continued ignorance of the masses. With one hand they are pointing the finger while the other sneaks round to your back pocket to pick it. Peoples attitudes on welfare are not fixed, as this poll shows, education changes peoples views. Labour needs to be the party of promoting an educated, informed debate about how we take the welfare state forward and in doing so it needs to break from some of its own bad past practice in this area. Doing this is no longer just a matter of principle, its a matter of political necessity, it is still blamed for the crash and if this were coupled with a general view it isnt able to improve for or even represent its core constituency of 'strivers' this could be electorally toxic to the point of being fatal. Mr Miliband has made a brave choice in taking up this fight - lets hope he now has the nous and will to win it.