By Ruben Lomas
Foundation Hospitals, handing over schools to businesses, giving employers control of curricula in Further Education — no corner of the public sector or welfare state is safe from the Blairite project of subordinating every aspect of public life to the needs and drives of the market.
Now the government plans a fresh assault against incapacity benefits, something they have gone after twice before — in 1999 and in early 2005. Then, the government proposed the reduction of incapacity benefit to just £56 a week. This time, they plan to scrap it altogether. Even those who are among the most vulnerable in our society, those who need the support of the welfare state and public services most, are not safe from Blairite barrages.
Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton told BBC Breakfast that the plans are “not about saving money for the taxpayer, it is about giving literally millions of people in our society the first opportunity to get back into the labour market where most of them want to be.” He went on to say “We’ve got to see people as potential job-seekers”.
This statement alone shows the naked commitment to free-market capitalism at the heart of this government’s agenda. The purpose of Britain’s welfare system is not to ensure that those who may be unable to help themselves are provided for — it is merely to act as a conduit to channel as many people as possible “back into the labour market” where, apparently, “most” of us “want to be.” New Labour wants to turn the welfare state into a conveyor belt for workplace-fodder.
If passed, the bill proposing the abolition of IB will generate around £7 billion of savings, and will hit almost 3,000,000 claimants. The name of the government’s new scheme — currently undergoing trials – says it all: “Pathways to Work.”
The new system will maintain the framework of means-testing which decides the “severity” of claimants’ disabilities. According to the Guardian, “claimants assessed as able to work would have to take part in initiatives designed to help them back into jobs, such as counselling, training and advice.”
Claimants who refuse to participate in such schemes will risk losing their benefits altogether.
Those elements of the labour movement currently cohering around anti-privatisation campaigns such as the “Public Services not Private Profit” initiative must expand their activity to fight against attempts to distort the welfare state and make the creation of (almost inevitably low-paid) workers its primary objective. Through campaigning against PFIs, PPPs and cuts such as this, working-class campaigners must develop our own positive programme for a real welfare state. Only a government based on and accountable to our movement can truly deliver this; if we genuinely want to defend and expand the welfare state, we have to fight for a workers’ government.