Sunday, 26 May 2013

Blue Labour: Would Ed Miliband shrink the welfare state?

Welfare reform has become one of the most divisive issues in austerity Britain. 


Now, a rising force within the Labour Party wants to silence the party's critics and win the welfare debate - by abandoning some of its oldest principles.

Its adherents want to scale back the state's role in welfare, reward with extra support people who have "paid in" more than others, and even take away universal benefits. 

They are not a right-wing think tank, they are Blue Labour. And they are closer than ever to the very heart of the Labour Party.

Leading voices such as Marc Stears and Jon Cruddas are in charge of crafting Ed Miliband's speeches and writing policies for the next election manifesto.

The shift is nowhere more evident than in the deprived London borough of Newham, where long-standing Labour Mayor Sir Robin Wales has overseen moves to fast-track people in employment on to the housing waiting list.  "It's not acceptable that generations of people live on welfare - it is not good for them, it is not right and it is not fair, and we have allowed that to happen," he says. 

The idea of rewarding those who "pay in" first is not new, even on the political left.  It was included in the 1942 report by William Beveridge that became the blueprint for the welfare state. But its rebirth as possible Labour policy blurs the boundaries of a stormy welfare debate increasingly oversimplified as "strivers and skivers".

Labour's new blue clique believes the welfare state has contributed to the downfall of communities - blamed for so long on inequality and the collapse of industry - by allowing people to think it is acceptable to just take.

Outspoken academic and Labour peer Lord Maurice Glasman, a close friend of Jon Cruddas, advocates removing absolute entitlement to welfare in favour of rewards based on contributions - both financially and socially.

 "It's absolutely correct that people who have paid in over the lifetime should be treated better than people who haven't paid in," he says.

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