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Taking a broader perspective…

Labour’s next big idea….

By Darrell Goodliffe.

We have all heard the leadership contenders talk about the need for Labour to put values back at the centre of politics. I agree. However, we need at least one big idea that encapsulates those values; that gives the electorate a clear demonstration of what those values mean in practice. Ed Miliband is coming closest to this with his campaign for the Living Wage. Combined with his proposals on a high pay commission this shows a willingness to strike hard at inequality where it bites; in your pay packet.

However, alongside the Living Wage, I think there is another ‘big idea’ waiting for expression. Namely, welfare reform; and before people think I am going to write something horribly right-wing I would ask that they at least consider the case. Nothing inherently wrong exists with the left championing radical reform; in fact, if it is to regain its radical spirit then that it is exactly what it must do. Ed Miliband’s ‘Living Wage’ would necessarily mean an increase in benefits; as wages go up prices will too and therefore the necessary benefit level will increase. I think we can do a lot better than that though; I have long been a strong proponent of the ‘Citizens Income’.

This would be the ultimate simplification of the benefits system; they would simply be abolished and replaced with the idea that the state would guarantee each and every citizen a certain income. In principle, this is a similar idea to the Child Trust Fund which guaranteed each child a certain amount of capital so in and of itself it is hardly earth-shattering stuff. However, in practice it would be as revolutionary as foundation of the welfare state itself; it would make quite clear that the state will provide where the market will not and that the market, which would in some way no doubt provide the necessary funds, serves the people not the other way around.  It would also give people a proper stake in their society and could be creatively linked to community and voluntary projects and the enrichment of the ‘big society’ that is so cherished by Cameron & Co.

It would simplify the system to the point where debates around ‘means testing’ and so forth would become meaningless and unnecessary and the current situation; where not all benefits function as proper benefits currently would not endure. Implementing this would require a change in attitude about what the welfare state is and how it can function not just as a safety net of last resort but a springboard which can launch people into better things. A properly supported and simplified welfare state alongside a real incomes policy would strike huge blows against social inequality. However, the two things cannot exist in isolation but have to act in tandem.

A ‘Living Wage’ is all well and good but it will not make a proper dint in inequality unless you consider those out of work and remember that the nature of society is that there always will be people out of work. A Citizens Income can and should be Labour’s next big idea….

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3 Responses

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by DarrellGoodliffe, Broad Left Blogging. Broad Left Blogging said: Labour's next big idea….: http://wp.me/pXkBd-23 […]

  2. Rob says:

    So we have a bloke on the dole getting the same as somebody who lost his legs in war lets just say, I’m paraplegic of course if i want to go somewhere or do anything I have to sit down and plan it, it always cost me more.

    So like DLA the most important benefit I get would have been stopped by Blair and brown, both hated it because it was Tory.

    My rent cost more because my home is specially adapted, my car has hand controls , the sad fact unless you have a bunion then disability is expensive.

    A person sitting on his ass for a life time would get what a citizens wage, and I live around people who have never worked in their lives, one slit my car tyres because as he said the unemployed do not get car free electric free free TV license or water free, of course we do not but I woke up with this gent stabbing my tyres with a knife.

    I’ve been in labour since 1960’s I’ve been disabled for twenty years, I’ve spent ten years trying to find work, in the end I gave up the job center gave up.

    But good old labours new medicals found me fit to work, saying that just because your paraplegic does not make you special which is true, then again I do not see labour as being special anymore either.

    ah well always slit your wrists I suppose.

  3. darrellgoodliffe says:

    Rob,

    I think the point here is that the Citizens Income would be set at a subsistance level so obviously different circumstances would change the level that was judged to be at.

    I’m sorry to hear about what happened with the medical which was obviously a product of the prevailing desire to simply get people off benefits but again I would say the Citizens Income would remove that problem since your fitness or otherwise to work would be irrelevant to you actually receiving it.

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