‘Labour must reclaim its true values’
John Harris (A moment of truth for Ed Miliband‘s party, 12 December) is right to demand that Labour leads a crusade against the government’s horrendous attack on the benefits of the poorest and most vulnerable in our communities. Of course everyone who can work must be expected to do so; provided there are jobs available – which is certainly not the case in constituencies like mine. But the government’s poisonous, dog-whistling narrative about strivers and skivers is obscuring truly shocking cuts to the disabled, young, carers and families with children. A supposed rise of 1% in benefits each year until 2015 is a real terms cut and there is also an unacceptable fall in living standards for all middle- and lower-income families whom the Tory-Lib Dems say they favour.
As John Harris rightly says, this has all the signs of being as toxic as the poll tax and Ed Miliband has made clear Labour will not be deflected by David Cameron’s cynical attempt to portray him as a “scrounger’s friend”.
Peter Hain MP
• The reason that Labour fails to effectively attack Osborne’s “shirkers” and “skivers” insults is that few Labour MPs now live in deprived areas. If they did they would know that the two-generation families where members have always opted not to work is a rarity. Most unemployed people are in and out of work. The unemployed are desperately seeking jobs. Labour MPs should defend the unemployed who have too little and attack the very affluent who have too much. Trouble is that would entail attacking themselves.
• I fear Ed Balls‘s suggestion that the working poor are the ones “who pull up the blinds” shows where he is on the class war front (Report, 12 December). And, while his warning that Tory constituencies have thousands of families who will lose out may be the only way to get the Tories to worry about this, I would have felt much happier if he had declared an all-out war on this attack on the welfare state and the last 60 years of faltering social progress. Labour has lost sight of why it came into existence: to build a fairer, more equal society. The truth is they are too middle class, too comfortable and too weak to fight for fairness.
• I’m pleased Labour has decided to oppose the government’s squeeze on benefits. It is, however, unfortunate so much of the opposition is based upon the fact that 60% of those hit by the squeeze are in work. The pernicious slurs about “shirkers” have shifted the debate and political climate so that no one appears to speak up about the impact of benefit changes on those not in work. The government appears to be successful in popularising the myth that all the jobless are undeserving. If Labour persists in only protesting about the effects of the squeeze on those in work, they will be colluding with the propaganda of those Tory posh boys who do not know the price of milk.
• The revelation that 800,000 more families than originally estimated will lose out under universal credit (Report, 11 December) is yet another reminder of this government’s meticulous attack on people entitled to benefits. It is impossible to separate these new figures – including 300,000 households losing as much as £300 a month – from the pernicious 1% cap on benefits and the Victorian divide-and-rule language used to justify it.
But other issues around universal credit also demand attention. Like the rest of government, the Department for Work and Pensions does not enjoy a glittering record on big IT projects – just look at the Universal Jobmatch fiasco (Report, 12 December), where hundreds of fake job ads have already had to be taken down. If universal credit goes live with anything like the glitches we fear, it would have serious consequences for the 19 million people whose benefits and tax credits will be administered by the system.
It is also perhaps not widely known that universal credit will widen conditionality and sanctions to those in work, forcing people to seek more hours. This will include the 40% of DWP’s own staff who are also claimants because of low pay.
General secretary, Public and Commercial Services union