No-one happy as left and right attack Labour welfare reforms
Is 'guaranteed' job scheme a raid on rich pensioners or an attack on the out-of-work?
LABOUR has unveiled plans to offer the long-term unemployed a "guaranteed" job for six months and declared that anyone who refuses the offer would face having their benefits docked.
The proposals, announced by shadow work and pensions spokesman Liam Byrne, would be financed by restricting tax relief on pension contributions for higher-rate taxpayers.
The plans have drawn immediate criticism from both sides of the political spectrum and added to the debate over welfare in Britain.
Under the Labour scheme, those out of work for two years or more would be given a six-month placement working 25 hours of work a week in the private or voluntary sectors, earning the national minimum wage. Writing on Politics Home, shadow chancellor Ed Balls claimed the plans were part of Labour's 'One Nation jobs contract' and proved its commitment to "welfare reform that is tough, fair and that works".
The plan appears simple. "Labour's aim is to appear both compassionate - the long-term unemployed will not be left to languish on the dole - and tough - those who are out of work must take accept any job they are offered or lose their benefits," explained George Eaton on the New Statesman Staggers blog.
He described it as "one of the most significant Labour policy announcements since 2010".
Isabel Hardman at The Spectator agreed. "Dig out the bunting, fly the red flags in celebration, for finally we have a policy from the Labour party," she wrote, before pointing out that the plan had drawn criticism from left and right.
Her point was neatly illustrated by the national press. The Times summed up the idea as "a £1 billion raid on the pension perks of the wealthy... to guarantee jobs for 130,000 adults out of work for more than two years."
But The Independent took a different tack. It painted the scheme as a plan "to deprive the long-term unemployed of their benefits if they refuse to take up the offer of a 'guaranteed' job."
The Guardian even suggested the whole thing was a political ruse "to protect [Labour] from the politically damaging charge that it is soft on welfare claimants". The paper added that Labour appeared to have adopted a new slogan - "working and training, not claiming" - and pointed out that Byrne used the phrase several times during an interview with the Radio 4 Today programme.
The policy even came under fire for being old hat. Daily Telegraph blogger Dan Hodges said the idea dated back to the 1990s. "I thought it was already government policy that if you refused the offer of work you had benefits withdrawn. And if it isn't, I suspect the electorate's response is likely to be to ask why the hell not," he wrote.
Pointing out that long-term unemployment has risen 146 per cent in two years, Owen Jones, writing on Labour List, said the party was "absolutely right to take on one of the great social crises of Cameron's Britain". But he too had criticisms and warned that Labour could "never credibly out-do the Tories on a 'tough' approach on welfare and – if they did – they might as well call it a day and pack up."
He also attacked the policy as "effectively a subsidy for minimum wage jobs in the private sector". ·