Other motions not passed - AWL conference 2019

Submitted by Zac Muddle on 21 January, 2020 - 2:28 Author: Angela Driver, David Pendletone, Simon Nelson, Luke Hardy
Protest against Universal Credit

Photo: CC BY 2.0

Motions on left antisemitism, the Hijab in schools, and social security and Labour's policy, were all submitted to AWL conference 2019. The conference decided that the first of these motions - on left antisemitism - should not be voted on, after a debate; the second, on the Hijab in schools, fell; the third - on social security - were not voted on, as decided before any debate. One of the motions on Labour's leadership election also fell - see here.

Left antisemitism

We acknowledge that left antisemitism is a form of racism.

The Hijab In Schools

We reaffirm our existing policy which we passed in 2004:

1. We oppose the hijab as a social mechanism of female subordination, and we oppose pressure on girls to wear the hijab. Our priority is to help and support secularists and leftists in the mainly-Muslim communities and who fight that pressure.

2. We are for universal secular education. We should seek to launch a counter-campaign in Britain against faith schools, the intrusion of religion in ordinary state schools, and the toleration, in the name of multi-culturalism, of Muslim girls being excluded by parental pressure from parts of education.

In addition, we note that exclusion from parts of education in this country may be more acute amongst girls from Muslim communities. However as the recent controversies around the new sex education curriculum show, it is not restricted to them. We are against all parents excluding any children from parts of the curriculum. We are for a secular curriculum with as much weight put on atheism and agnosticism as any religion. First amendment, which fell, was to append here the following which is in italics: Curricula should cover historical and contemporary feminist, LGBTQI, secular and other liberatory struggles against religious tyrannies, from around the world and from different religious backgrounds.

Furthermore, we recognise that the hijab is now often worn by girls from a Muslim background in primary schools. This is not an act of rebellion or cultural association by young adults making a considered decision. It is enforced by reactionary elements within their communities and their families.

In line with our commitment to education as the possibility for children and young people to develop, discover and define themselves regardless of, and possibly in contradiction to, the expectations of their families and their communities, we will make propaganda for - second amendment, which fell, was to replace the text in italics before this with the text in italics after - support a ban on the hijab - third amendment, which fell, was to replace the text in italics before this with the text in italics after - all conspicuous religious symbols for children within Primary schools, i.e. up to the Key Stage 2 (age 11). Alongside this we will patiently explain that this is motivated by our principles of feminism and secularism and not a form of anti-Muslim racism.

Social security and Labour's policy

We want to replace the current mean and punitive benefit system with a welfare system explicitly committed to the following principles:

That the benefit system is not just a safety net but a mechanism for the redistribution of wealth from the rich to the working class. Especially the poorest, disabled people and those carrying out unpaid care work including as parents.

That the benefit system guarantees the universal right to decent housing, access to continuing education, access to free universal child care and a decent standard of living to all.

That the benefit system complements and supports union organisation and workers rights by not forcing people into un-unionised, casualised work, encourages union membership and provides access to the benefit system for those on strike.

To those ends we propose the following measures:

1. An end to the benefit freeze; uprating of benefits in line with inflation or earnings, whichever is higher.

2. Reversal of all cuts and reductions in benefits; increases to a level where they can afford a comfortable, not minimum, income.

3. Entitlement conditions that are straightforward, inclusive and available to all, including migrants (scrap ‘No recourse to public funds’).

4. Payment of benefits for all children and dependents.

5. Abolition of all sanctions.

6. The scrapping of Work Capability and similar assessments.

7. Relevant health issues to be addressed using medical professionals with appropriate knowledge of individuals’ conditions and disabilities.

8. Delivery by adequate numbers of paid public servants, via networks accessible to everyone, including provision of face-to face support for all who need it.

9. Reversal of all DWP cuts and privatisation

10. The right of different members of a household to divide the claiming of benefits.

11. Repeal of the longstanding Tory measure stopping access to benefits for workers on strike.

12. Quicker initial payments, more frequent payments.

The new Labour Party policy announced at the Brighton conference goes along way towards many of these demands. While continuing to advocate the other measures listed above and not included in the Labour Party policy, we focus on demanding that Labour campaign for and carry out that policy.

This includes campaigning for existing campaigns against "welfare reforms" and Universal Credit to take up demands on the Labour party.

The Labour policy is called "stop and scrap". It proposes an immediate transformation of Universal Credit, to be followed by further measures which will add up to replacing it by a renamed compendium payment administered by a new Department of Social Security.

"Reduce the five-week waiting period by introducing an interim payment after two weeks;

Scrap the two-child limit;

Scrap the benefit cap;

Immediately suspend sanctions and the claimant agreement;

Make split payments, payments direct to landlords, and fortnightly payments the default;

Officially end the ‘digital only’ approach by recruiting 5000 new social security advisers.”

It does not propose an immediate stop to Universal Credit payments and a procedure under which all those receiving UC must apply for the legacy benefits until the new system is set up.

The other Universal Credit motion

1, Introduction

The government's universal credit policy has caused hardship and pauperisation for claimants.

Much of that is down to the period claimants have to wait to receive universal credit, payment in arrears as well as myriad new cuts and conditions included as part of this policy.

A key question us whether the fundamental problem with Universal Credit is how it is implemented – hence the call to “pause and fix”. Or is Universal Credit a system that is rotten from the foundation up that requires this system replacing.

We contend it is the central structure of universal credit that is the problem. That one of its key purpose is to universalise a harsh conditionality, a level of coercion and in practice cuts to most benefit recipients.

As the Legacy benefits are also deeply inadequate and even broken we should be campaigning to Stop, Scrap and Replace Universal Credit. We should be advocating replacing it with a radical socialist welfare policy that redistributes wealth and power to our class and supports class struggle.

2, The Intellectual origins of Universal Credit

Universal Credit as a policy origins lie in the “Dynamic Benefits” report issued by Ian Duncan Smiths ‘Centre of Social Justice’ in 2009, but its intellectual origins are deeper.

Universal credits intellectual inspiration is "negative income tax" an idea first promoted in the 1940s by conservative Economists including Milton Friedman as an alternative to the comprehensive Social Democratic welfare systems developed after WW2 under the pressure of militant working class.

Unlike those systems which had at least the rhetoric of redistribution and the states responsibility to abolish poverty, provide housing etc. NIT was meant to minimise the states responsibility to a single sliding scale payment. NIT wanted to see the participant as an individual consumer and economic agent.

New Labour flirted with ideas around negative income tax / Universal Credit. Their are echoes of it in the name of the Tax Credit scheme. However housing benefit, disability benefits, child benefits remained stand alone.

What Ian Duncan Smith and his advisers added to the idea of Universal Credit was that by being monthly paid in arrears like a wage it would ape wages and with conditions it could instil in the claimants “the discipline of work”. An argument was also made not incorrectly that cliff edge “withdrawal rates” of benefits when in paid work was punitive.

Another aspect is the benefit of a single sign on both to the claimant but also in terms of bureaucracy needed. However it also had another benefit politically. Rather than benefits been variously administered by the DWP, Local Authorities and the Treasury these benefits would all be administered by the DWP.

3, The Tories and the move to Universal Credit

When the Tory / Lib Dem Coalition came to power in 2010 they used the financial crisis and whipped up popular resentment against benefit claimants to carry out a radical restructure of the benefit system to dismantle much of the frayed safety net that existed and lower the social minimum to drive people into low paid, casualised work.

They did this by expanding and deepening conditionality and coercion, implementing cuts, benefit caps and punitive sanctions throughout the benefit system. For the first time conditionality began being applied to most disabled claimants through ESA. Cuts both directly and indirectly where pushed through to most benefits. The DWP was increasingly transformed from having a partially supportive role for claimants to being about actively monitoring and asserting the conditions in conditionality through punitive sanctions and other methods.

What universal credit as a policy effectively does is generalises these cuts and drags hitherto relatively unaffected cohorts into conditionality and the work commitment such as part time workers claiming tax credit. Initially this conditionality is likely to be only made onerous for those those working jobs that effectively are less than 20 hours a week. But universal credit provides a mechanism to spread this coercion across millions of workers.

Universal credit universalises the worst and most soul crushing aspects of the benefit system to provide a drive for people to take up low paid casualised work that provides neither enough to live on or any prospect of advancement or incremental increases in wages.

Another deeply regressive measure was to have the payment go to one household member. This will lead to primarily women finding themselves trapped in abusive relationships without even limited financial independence. Is this just an inadvertent accident as the result of an attempt to simplify the system or does it reflect an intent to use Universal credit to encourage nuclear family units as part of general tory policy? The unwillingness to change or amend this element suggests the latter.

Proponents of Universal credit point to its simplicity as being one of its chief virtues. However at the same time there is a deliberate strategy to complicate the conditions, qualifications, caps and hoops jumped to qualify for different elements of benefits under Universal Credit. This deliberately is a policy to make it hard for claimants to be able to tell if they are being underpaid and to slide regressive changes through with little public outcry.

4, Campaigning against tax credit.

The "pause and fix" position acknowledges the massive social damage done by Universal Credit.

It provides a long list of demands to be changed:

  • The length of time from claiming to receiving payment to be reduced massively.
  • End the payment in arrears.
  • End the requirement to be paid to one person per household.
  • End Benefit sanctions
  • Reverse the cuts in the Tax credit components of Universal Credits.
  • End the "Shared Household allowance" rate for under 35s as the Housing component of Universal credit.
  • Ensure the payment of adequate housing component required to secure housing for claimants.
  • End the benefit cap.
  • End the claimant commitment.
  • Relax conditionality and increase practical support for job searching, training and adult education.
  • Restore benefits supporting every child.
  • End the freeze on benefits and restore the missing amount that should have been added to keep up with prices.
  • Bring back the ability to apply on paper or through an advisor in One Stops, Job Centres etc.
  • Make housing component of Universal credit available to all those that need it from the age of 16.
  • No evictions or discrimination in housing against tenants due to being universal credit claimants.

If we were to win this it would change the situation radically. However agreement on what should be part of the list varies massively. For instance the list of "fixes" workers liberty would ask for is longer than the list Labour has been asking for. But these differences are lost under the headline "Pause and Fix" the very length of the list mitigates against this as an effective agitational demand. Practically when the demand is put for instance it foregrounds one or two of these elements for "Fixing" . The government’s response has tended to be to give concessions to those migrating to universal credit from other benefits but still keeping the cuts, the most coercive, mean and intrusive aspects for new applicants. The Tories claim to have "Paused and Fixed" Universal Credit already. We know this isn't true but to get this across takes a relatively deep understanding of benefit policy.

The whole logic of such a long list points towards the idea of Universal credit being unfixable.

Already Stop and Scrap is the general demand of disability rights activists, many women's groups, Housing campaigners and many on the left of the Labour party. It has the merit as a agitational demand of simplicity, directness, being comprehensible in a way the list of demands under Pause and fix above is not.

It has a downside if the alternative is just seen to be the current legacy benefit system with all the problems these have.

In the case of the current legacy housing benefit system this would by and large be a positive thing for most claimants to stay on this. It’s in the hands of local authorities not the DWP. Local authorities have an obligation to house people in a way the DWP doesn't under universal credit.

Labour councils have often proved to be much more sympathetic and flexible to claimants and are able to pick up on problems early on and work to help them. This is much less likely to happen under Universal credit.

In terms of other benefits some may lose out by moving back to legacy benefits already made much harsher by the tories.

The answer to this is not to retreat to asking for extra fixes to universal credit. But to build on the movement and political momentum that would be built by a successful campaign to scrap Universal Credit by advocating Stop, Scrap and Replace.

Replace the current benefit system with a welfare system explicitly committed to the following principles:

That the benefit system is not just a safety net but a mechanism for the redistribution of wealth from the rich to the working class. Especially the poorest, disabled people and those carrying out unpaid care work including as parents

That the benefit system guarantees the universal right to decent housing, access to continuing education, access to free universal child care and a decent standard of living to all.

That the benefit system complements and supports union organisation and workers rights by not forcing people into un-unionised, casualised work, encourages union membership and provides access to the benefit system for those on strike.

In this new benefit system we can ensure that there is a simplified method of claiming and that the benefit withdrawal rate against wages for those in work is adequately tapered. The DWP could be radically transformed in the interest of claimants and workers.

As revolutionary socialists our task is not simply to look at Universal credit in isolation and put forward fixes that would mitigate its impact on individuals. This is the imperative of the NGO, the reforming liberal or the social democrat. Neither is our model the trade union rep who looks at universal credit primarily in terms of the workers delivering it.

Our task is to agitate, stir up and rouse our class to defeat the possessing classes. A defeat for universal credit at the hands of disability rights activists, welfare rights groups, social housing tenants, feminist groups, unions and the rank and file of the Labour party membership is possible and would be a historic victory. It would raise confidence to fight to defeat other elements of austerity.

Workers Liberty should be their in that campaign to advocate a radical socialist welfare system and point the way towards a revolutionary reconstitution of society not arguing with activists against Universal Credit that their efforts would be better put into trying to fix a failed and hated policy.

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