Chuka Umunna – the symbol of Labours failure

Do you remember Chuka Umunna the guy who briefly was the Labour ‘leadership front runner’ ? No – well he was Labour’s potential new leader for “3 days in May” before he changed his mind. Now according to reports he is plotting, with Tristram Hunt ( possibly another you do not remember) to frustrate the real Labour leader with a right-wing ‘resistance group’ when he/she emerges from the party ballot in September.

Anyway he is only worth remembering to illustrate the paucity of Labour thinking in the last 5 years. It is pretty shocking. Despite the widespread coverage given to the damaging effects of Ian Duncan Smith’s attack on social security recipients he was interviewed by George Eaton in the New Statesman in July 2015 and had this to say:

But he says he supports the household benefit cap, which the Conservatives plan to reduce from £26,000 to £20,000 (£23,000 in London), not for tactical reasons but because it is “right”.

“It’s wrong that you should be able to receive more in benefits than you do in work … How can I turn round and say to one of my constituents who’s on around £28,000 [pre-tax] that it’s justifiable for somebody to be receiving more in benefits than they do for the hard work they do every day. I would like to meet somebody who would feel able to make that argument in a strong way, never mind in a constituency like mine where we’ve got a 14,000 majority, but in one of the constituencies we need to win.”

I did offer to meet up with him, but received no reply from him. So, he, although a trained legal mind has not been able to work out for himself “arguments in a strong way” to defend some principles that you may have thought were core to Labour values. Even if he believes some reforms are necessary the attack on the sick and disabled has been so severe, relentless and orchestrated for the last 5 years that  you would hope a member of the Opposition might actually oppose it.

The propositions that he has accepted are that no one living in London should receive a totality of Social Security payments exceeding £23,000.00 at all whatever the reason and anyone outside London should be limited to £20,000.00

He also accepts that it is not justifiable for someone out of work or ill or disabled to receive Social Security payments that resemble that average UK wage income rate which currently is about the level of £27,000.00. Of course this level of pay for many people is a dream and many make do with less including the vast majority of Social Security recipients.

Our Social Security system has been built up over many years of largely agreed all party political consensus. It is only in the last parliament that the Conservatives aided by the Liberal Democrats have started to tear up the Social Contract that was built on British values. That a supposedly senior figure in the Labour Party would also join in this wrecking action is a matter for serious concern.

Our Social Security system has many strands of separate individual benefits as support has been added when special disadvantages have been identified and generally agreed upon. None of them are particularly generous and certainly none of the ‘money in hand payments’ would reach the level he thinks excessive.

The rates of increase in these benefits have generally tracked inflation over the years while wages have generally been suppressed in recent years.The problem of declining or static wages growth is a totally separate subject to Social Security provision and needs it’s own remedies which you would hope most people would recognise. Attacking the income of the out of work, sick and disabled to remedy this or other problems in society is a political cop out that should be challenged.

The Social Security system looks confusing, but is understandable to most tolerant observers. Most will also see that in general terms it would only be fairly exceptional circumstances that someone would even consider living on social security. However it does make simplistic views like Chuka’s awkward to nail down in real life examples for comparisons.

So lets confine ourselves to broad points.

Lets deal with the ill and disabled first, as no Labour politician should have any trouble arguing that those suffering illness or incapacity should be supported at a decent rate. Why should those unable to work at all or prevented by illness not have access to something like average income ? The reason you would say they should get less is because you believe they don’t deserve to play a full social role in society. One other possible reason is that you believe they are all shirking the responsibility of looking after themselves. This is the view of the Conservatives.That is the only explanation as to why they have spent millions of pounds of taxpayers money on re-assessing claimants ailments trying to prove they are actually not ill or incapacitated. Could we have this expenditure justified ?

Naturally there are people who play the system. They are actually committing fraud pretty much like bankers manipulating Libor rates to improve their bonuses. You arrest them and take them to court. You do not design a system that works on the assumption that every applicant is a liar and a cheat. Many able bodied people get dragged into Social Security system because of illness, accident or disability that happens not to them, but their loved ones. People end up as carers trying to support themselves and their families in sometimes tragic circumstances.

So lets see what payments are available to the single person out of work. For adults aged 18 to 24 the weekly rate of Job Seekers Allowance is £57.90 per week. For those aged 25 and over it is £73.10. Quite why we have this age discrimination is hard to understand given that the age of majority is legally 18.

Equally obscure is why a couple out of work receive £114.85, but that is the entitlement. Anyway you begin to see that  being out of work is not a source of wealth and the need for a ‘benefit cap’ might be unwarranted or that it is all simple political gamesmanship . Unfortunately poor old Chuka cannot seem to work this out.

So how can anyone acquire these vast benefits that are so great that they need to be capped. The majority of other Social Security payments that people are entitled to are pretty limited in additional payments and are targeted at specialised needs such as widows, child guardians and the bereaved.

There are a number of additional benefits that will support individuals and families, but the two main sources of extra benefits that will help get near to the average wage are additions for children and housing costs. Child benefit is £20.70 per week for the first  child and currently £13,70 for additional children.

Child benefit is available to Chuka’s  envisioned employed person as well on top of their wage. They might be able to claim Child Tax credits while they exist even at incomes close to the average wage as well also topping up their income. So Social Security arrangements are available to working and out of work households. 

So a simplistic view of wages vs benefits is fraught with contradictions, However it is likely to be only out of work families where money targeted to help children is subject to withdrawal. Chuka cannot see any way he can compose an argument against this as he says “because it is right”.

The real target of the cap and the benefit likely to cause support for families to be capped is Housing Benefit. This is not surprising since housing forms a large proportion of family budgets. I am not going to waste anytime justifying why people who lose their jobs or have other problems in life should not have to lose their homes as well. If you cannot see the senselessness in that action I am unable to help you .The benefit cap is designed to force families to give up their homes. For me there is no other purpose to this arbitary cap than to ensure that large families are forced into homelessness. How could it be otherwise and a senior Labour politician called Chuka Ummuna thinks it is right.