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Thursday, June 19, 2014 

It's a condition all right.

One thing always guaranteed to brighten the day is politicians repeating the most lazy, clichéd myths as though they were unquestionable laws of nature. Earlier in the week the British Social Attitudes survey found views on migrants hardening, with a quarter believing they principally came here to claim benefits.  Their take is of course nothing to do with the coalition repeatedly tightening the rules on when EU migrants are entitled to access the welfare system, despite having failed to present the slightest evidence of benefit tourism, and when studies have repeatedly showed migrants overwhelmingly paying more in than they take out.

Thank goodness we have Ed Miliband to make the case for social security then, eh? He wouldn't do something like claim we encourage 18-year-olds who don't go to university to pile straight onto benefits rather than carry on in training or learning, would he? Oh. Still, he wouldn't then try and get back into a triangulation battle with the Tories by restricting a benefit to the young, as the wicked Conservatives want to with housing benefit, right? Ah.

This isn't entirely fair, as Declan Gaffney valiantly while still expressing major reservations best sets out.  Those training for more than 16 hours a week can't currently claim Jobseeker's Allowance, so for them the change will obviously make a major difference.  Away from that, the problems quickly mount.  More than anything, Miliband seems to be suggesting training to A-level standard is a means to an end at a time when countless graduates are stuck in low-skilled work.  Sure, it undoubtedly will help some, but as Chris argues this is pure manageralism.  In part it's blaming young people for not being able to find work when the fundamental difficulty outside of the usual areas is there aren't enough jobs, regardless of the skills those unemployed have.  Once you've added on the extremely dubious further means test, meaning those with parents earning over £42,000 will be entitled to precisely zip, as clearly they should be reliant on them rather than the state, it gets worse.

Gaffney is nonetheless far too kind to Miliband, as it's transparent why this policy was picked out from the 28 recommendations made by the IPPR report.  Labour couldn't possibly announce they were intending to increase JSA payments to those who've been in work for 5 years, regardless of the welcome reintroduction of the contributory principle, without at the same time taking away from somewhere else.  Hence the young predictably get it straight in the neck, for the exact reasons we've gone over countless times beforeThe spin to the Graun and the rest of the press gave the game away, making a policy which isn't quite as draconian as it seems once you look into it out to be Labour getting tough on the supposed "something for nothing" culture.

Such is the way the debate on welfare must now be conducted.  It doesn't matter how many contradictions there are when it comes to the public's view on welfare, with so many ignorant of the actual rates and amount of fraud, making it wholly unsurprisingly 72% take the view it doesn't reward those who've paid in adequately (which JSA doesn't, it must be said), or how those on one particular benefit are often convinced those on a separate scheme are playing the system, it seems the only way to propose a positive change is to at the same time make a negative one.

We shouldn't forget either this comes at a time when the welfare system is in utter chaos, with Labour doing next to nothing to pin Iain Duncan Smith down for his spectacular failings.  As the memo leaked to the BBC makes clear, the JSA system of sanctioning and various workfare schemes has reached such proportions many are being driven onto Employment and Support Allowance as a result.  ESA correspondingly is costing more than expected, and the backlog of cases keeps on growing, with the same problems affecting the new personal independence payment scheme.  Universal credit is a complete joke, having been "reset" and "recast" as an entirely new project, while the work programme remains one which simply doesn't.

The shame here is most of the other recommendations from the IPPR's Condition of Britain report are worthy (PDF), if we gloss over the national citizen service target and yet further attempts to get back to work schemes on track.  Especially important would be devolving powers over housing benefit to councils, and while "neighbourhood justice panels" sound ominous, promoting restorative justice locally could help bring back some faith in the system.  Miliband for his part again spoke of the reality of low skilled work not giving a sense of fulfilment, let alone managing to pay the bills, exactly the sort of message which could, should resonate.  Still though we then get other shadow ministers, like Chuka Umunna on Newsnight, saying this was really about "plugging people in to the global economy", which sounds like something a more deranged George Osborne would like to do to disobliging paups.  When they can't seem to decide what the narrative (ugh) is, and when they're so convinced they have to follow the Tory lead, why should anyone so much as slightly sympathetic to Labour take their apparently good motives at face value?

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