Welfare sanctions vote – the fallout continues

22nd March, 2013 8:21 am

The fallout from Tuesday’s welfare sanctions vote – and the sizeable Labour rebellion – has rumbled on into a fourth day today. But alongside continued disquiet at the party’s position on the issue, there’s also greater clarity about why the Labour leadership were so keen to get the concessions they did – especially on an independent review of welfare sanctions.

Patrick Wintour reports in the Guardian this morning on a whistle blowing case in the DWP that reveals there are internal league tables on sanctions – which suggests that there are targets for sanctioning claimants. The Guardian piece says:

“A leaked email shows staff being warned by managers that they will be disciplined unless they increase the number of claimants referred to a tougher benefit regime.”

That’s something which has been persistently denied by Tory Ministers – but which the Labour initiated review of sanctions will now have to get to the bottom of.

Many Labour MPs – including some in the Labour leadership – were aware of the whistleblowing case before this week’s vote, which is believed to have been a factor in the decision to abstain. Certainly that’s what Liam Byrne is saying. In a press release last night, the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary said:

“This is why we took difficult decisions on the Jobseekers’ Bill to secure an independent review of sanctions. We knew there were sanctions targets and now we’ve secured an independent report to Parliament to put right a regime in Job Centres that’s running out of control.”

Whether or not this will reduce the anger many in the party feel towards Byrne and the Labour leadership remains to be seen, but the importance attached to the review of sanctions certainly makes more sense now.

Meanwhile, Labour’s biggest affiliate Unite – who came out against the party’s decision to abstain earlier this week – have written to every Labour rebel thanking them for their opposition to the bill. The text of the letter (from Len McCluskey) can be seen in full below:

“I am taking the unusual step of writing to you following the vote this Tuesday on the Jobseekers (Back to work Schemes) Bill and your decision to oppose this legislation.

Unite was more than disappointed with the decision taken by the Labour front bench to abstain, failing to oppose the government’s attempts to shore up its failing workfare scheme. Opposition to these measures ought to have been the response of our party.

Unite has consistently opposed all forms of workfare and quite simply considers it to be means of exploiting people unable to find paid employment. The fact that this government’s implementation of workfare has been challenged by the courts was something we welcomed.

On Tuesday, Parliament failed to protect the public interest against a government that had been found to be acting unlawfully and a Secretary of State that had stepped beyond his powers.

Those Labour MPs who voted against the government took the opportunity to oppose the tacit acceptance of forced labour where non-employed people are required to work for nothing but JSA payments as well as the ability of government to rewrite law simply in order to escape the jurisdiction of the courts. We cannot accept the view that Labour must be able to retain the power to sanction those who do not accept workfare.

Our members have certainly expressed their disappointment that Labour failed in its duty as an opposition to do this collectively.

Our party needs to be seen standing shoulder-to-shoulder with all those suffering from the consequences of the failed economic strategy of David Cameron and George Osborne. Unite wants to campaign for and secure a Labour government at the next election – a government that puts the values of our members above those of the already rich and powerful.

The challenge for the Labour leadership is to create an effective alternative that resonates with the British public – not confusion about where our party stands. Neither must is offer Coalition-lite policies to an electorate suffering under the real thing.

Labour is in a strong position to win the next election, it is beginning to set out a new approach which breaks with 30 years of neo-liberal economics, the policies that caused the crisis. But it will only succeed if it continues on that radical path, confronting the coalition on basic issue of social justice.

Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union representing members in employment as well as the non-employed. We are committed to fighting for our members in the workplace but also in the political arena especially at a time when our members find themselves attacked from all sides by government. It should be noted that shortly we will be holding our political fund ballot this year asking our members to reaffirm the political work of Unite.

Labour must not make this kind of mistake again.

Let me thank you personally and on behalf of our members for taking a stand on this issue and voting for our shared values of decency, fairness and justice.”

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