Published on June 28th, 2014 |
by Lorna Carnegie
Spot the Difference
In British politics it is becoming less and less obvious who is on the left and who’s on the right as our political parties are undeniably losing their policy distinction. Over the past two decades we have seen a major political convergence on both side as our parties become less ideological. Take Labours new Welfare proposal, where young people will not receive benefits if they are under qualified, but will instead be encouraged into more training to increase their potential for future employment and reduce the risk of being locked into a cycle of low paid jobs and benefit dependency. Whether or not you agree with this new policy it must be said that it does not appear, at first glance, vey “Labour”; that is the traditional people’s party with more left wing, socialist beliefs and a pursuit of equality through increased public spending to help the neediest in society. Generally it is the Conservatives who promote welfare reform to reduce public spending and the role of the state and yet we now see that Labour is planning to cut Welfare support, potentially more than the Conservatives.
On the BBC Sunday Politics program we saw Rachel Reeves, the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary promising that Labour will cut young people’s benefits if they are not in training and cut fuel allowances for wealthy pensioners. She seemed proud to show how Labour is committed to reducing public spending and suggested that it was even more committed to this than the Conservative government. The Independent has suggested that this is Labour trying to shake their image of “the Welfare party” by taking a tougher approach to social security in the hope of increasing people’s confidence in their ability to manage the economy before the 2015 election.
Recent reports claim that under the current Conservative coalition government young people’s prospects are bleak, as they have little chance of getting a secure job. However, these reports have been comparing the current situation with boom periods of the 1990s, where as we are currently in an economic recovery and, compared to other recoveries in the past, prospects for young people are better now than they have been in the past.
If prospects are bleak then the new Labour policy is promising as it is offering more training to young people, and more training should mean that more young people are employed in better jobs. Labour has, however, come under attack from both sides as the Conservatives and the Unions, especially Unite, criticise their proposal. The Conservatives believe that their proposal will result in increased public spending on welfare, and therefore increased borrowing and increased taxes, yet the Unions claim that, while the new proposals show a commitment to increasing young people’s training and education, the Labour leader is following a “Tory rhetoric of sanction and punishment.”
The Labour party have now proposed what the Conservatives are calling a “weak and more costly version” of their own policy. In November of 2013 the Institute for Public Policy Research proposed the idea of reducing Job seekers allowance for the under-25s. There followed a great deal of media coverage surrounding the story as it was believed that Labour was to adopt this principle. Meanwhile the Conservative’s attempts to alter the social security system have failed to pass the pilot stage, apparently due to the Lib Dems blocking their movements, yet their own MPs for the Department of Work and Pensions have pointed out that there would be many losers from this policy, such as the disabled and young families. We will have to wait for their party conference, in the run up to the election, to know for sure their position in this principle.
A Conservative backbencher Dominic Raab told the Guardian that he believes the Tories had been engaging in “political cross-dressing” with Labour on egalitarian policies, rather than taking the line of “meritocracy and social mobility” which the majority of Conservatives believe in. While the latest principle of cutting young people’s benefits was first proposed by the left-leaning IPPR, it was then taken up by the Conservatives. Meanwhile Labour criticised it for punishing young people and, last November, forcibly denied reports that they would adopt a similar policy. Rachel Reeves claimed that it “is not and will not be our policy… it’s not our plan” and “it is totally not my position”, however they have now said that they will in fact introduce means tested benefits for under-21s, and those who lack basic skills will be required to go through further training or lose their benefits. Labour’s version of the policy has been strongly criticised by the Tories, and yet there are now very similar government pilot schemes proposed by the Tories to cut Job Seekers Allowance for under-21s without a GCSE in English or Maths. The Tories claim that Labour’s idea to train young people to an A-level equivalent is “unaffordable and unnecessary” as many young people out of work do not even have a GCSE in English or Maths. The Conservatives therefore want to focus on resolving this lower level issue to get more young people into entry level jobs.
While it appears that the there is a converging of party policies, Labours plans will still require increased spending for training, despite their plan to cut benefits. Labour want to use the money saved from cutting the Job Seekers Allowance for under-21s to pay back into a new means tested allowance. This, Labour claims, would result in a net saving of around £65m. All of the money saved would be reinvested into the social security system. This is the main point which the Conservatives strongly dispute as no money is being used to reduce the countries deficit. We can therefore see that our political parties are converging as there is very little to differentiate them on this latest policy. While the Conservatives appear confused as to what line to adopt on welfare, Labour’s stronger approach appears as if they are trying to convince the people that they can be trusted in charge of the economy. People, however, still fear that Labour could see us back into another crisis and therefore so long as the economy continues to improve the momentum remains with the Conservatives.
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