Monday, March 16, 2009

Taking on Tom Harris

Originally wrote this over on Common Endeavour, but thought I'd add it here too.

Tom Harris' follow up to his "Return of Morality" piece is definitely an improvement, he has obviously taken on board criticisms about the sexist nature of the original piece and makes sure at least that the boys are in for an equal dose of criticism. He is also making an effort to distance himself from those on the right who like to view benefits claimants as scroungers.

All, no doubt an improvement on the original article but there are still what I'd call a few causes for concern with his article. A culture of benefit dependency is no doubt a problem and I have no doubt that Tom's diagnosis that much of it began with Thatcher in the 80's. I'm less convinced on two other aspects of his argument.

Firstly, there's the Tom Harris vs The Labour Party mentality that persists with stuff like this:
AS FOR the accusation of giving comfort to the ‘Right-wing’, when did it become ‘Left-wing’ to tolerate such a colossal waste of lives? Why is it ‘Left-wing’ to allow millions of people to remain on benefits instead of working? When did ‘Labour’ stop meaning ‘work’ and start to mean ‘benefits’?

With this he is pandering to a set of predjudices that the Daily Mail and it's ilk like to put out that we in the Labour party are driven by some kind of sinister drive to further welfare dependency and that we prefer to bury our heads in the sand over the issue. This is quite simply not the case.

Then we move on to this bit:
No single party, I’m convinced, has all the answers. James Purnell, the Work and Pensions Secretary, has proposed some of the most radical changes yet to the welfare state. But just because Labour is in government does not give us a monopoly on solutions. Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and Theresa May, the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, have much to add to this debate, as has Frank Field, the Labour MP who was asked by Tony Blair to ‘think the unthinkable’ back in 1997, who did – and was sacked for his efforts

In looking for answers to the problems of welfare dependency, looking to Frank Field, Iain Duncan-Smith, Theresa May and James Purnell seems like limiting yourself to a very narrow set of viewpoints. I know this is simplifying their viewpoints somewhat, but all of them seem to rely very heavily on what you might call "stick" policies (withdrawal of benefits and such).

The problem with "stick" policies is that for many, getting a job means getting a menial minimum wage job with no prospects for promotion or advancement. The prospect of a lifetime in such unrewarding work will not lift people out of the benefit trap.

What we need, in my view, is a serious attempt by the government create new jobs, the market has 30 years to try and I think it's fair to say that it's failed in that aim. The government needs to step in with a fiscal stimulus that has the clear aim of creating good, rewarding work. That and not handing out judgement from on high is what we need.

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