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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  • Dave Postles

    I don’t understand the logic. Is the point that retrospective legislation and the penalizing of up to 300,00 people are a valid trade-off against an independent review of sanctions which would have arisen anyway once the whistleblower’s leak came into the public purview? It all seems then to come down to an issue of sanctions but not targets for sanctions. I hope that I am in gross error (as usual).

    • postageincluded

      I’d say “sanctions but not targets for sanctions” is a substantial distinction. Whether there’s an overall political gain from this parliamentary manoeuvre is quite a different question – I think we have to wait and see, but I’d not bet on it. The difficulty is that giving your reasons a posteriori is never going to be as convincing as doing it up front, even if you have good reasons for holding back. This sounds like an excuse.

    • Curlew

      Postles is right. A bird in the hand etc. And how dare the front bench make deals over the rights of their constituents.

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  • Daniel Speight

    This story sounds like it is bought to us by the same team that gave us the 45 minute Iraq WMD claim. It’s trying to close the barn door after the horse has bolted. There’s a simple answer – Byrne goes.

    And very strange that Byrne forgot about that excuse writing in LL yesterday wasn’t it. Someone is telling porkies here. Who is it? Surely not Tom Baldwin. Couldn’t be. Could it?

  • This isn’t very convincing and still makes no difference at all. A mistake was made and Byrne should be sacked. Simple as.

  • Daniel Speight

    Read it again and now decided it’s pure bulls**t. Who are they trying to fool? Mark would you like to tell us who spun this story to you?

  • MonkeyBot5000

    …which is believed to have been a factor in the decision to abstain.

    The reason they abstained is because they don’t have the integrity to vote against.

    Certainly that’s what Liam Byrne is saying.

    If Liam Byrne told me the sky is blue, I’d have to look out the window to check.

  • This could have been followed up without the abstention policy. A whistleblower plus a vote against would have been just as effective. Anyone who thinks the inquiry will change anything is off their head.

    The truth is the leadership is terrified of being painted as ” the scroungers friend” rather than attacking the Government as the “millionaires friend”. It is truly disappointing that the “leadership” can’t apply their brains to attacking the Tories rather than dodging what the right wing press might say.
    It is the same weak party leadership that does not understand the issue and took forever to start talking about the impact of the bedroom tax.

  • Why should that stop Labour from opposing the Bill on the one hand whilst on the other insisting on more transparent regulations? Particularly as Labour would have the strength of the judiciary from the court ruling. Why did Labour place so little regard in that court decision and see themselves as holding the lesser hand, to make a trade off ?

  • SeenItAllBefore

    Why is this a shock their are claimant targets? Having worked in a Benefit Office in the mid 1980’s the “fraud” squad at the time had targets for removing/driving people from the register then. Always denied by the department of employment and campaigned against locally by the civil service unions at the time. This government really is a throwback to the dark days of Thatcherism at its worst.

  • Amber_Star

    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.
    No it doesn’t. It begs more questions. Why didn’t Byrne raise the sanctions targets with IDS during the debate? Why were they a secret on Tuesday but not today?

    If Byrne knew about the targets, it makes any deal with IDS look even grubbier today than it did on Tuesday.

  • Amber_Star

    Sanctioning people to meet quotas is surely unlawful. I really do not understand why Byrne did not raise this during the debate. Byrne now appears to have been assisting IDS in covering up yet more illegal activity by the Department of Sanctions & Pensions. Mark, please try to find out more about this & tell me I am wrong because I very much want to be wrong!

    • dancingroads

      Yes its unlawful. Perhaps we can take the government to court

      Oh but they will just retrospectively change the law again

      and Labour will let them

    • your not wrong amber this is happening and it is evil over 7,500 suicides because of this evil, probably many more, it will all come out soon, please god

  • AlanGiles

    This sounds the weak pathetic excuse that it is. Probably an eleventh hour attempt to save Byrne’s job.

    It raises another interesting question for me: Considering you can’t get a sheet of Bronco between the Coalition and Labour on “welfare reform” and given that it was Labour who originallypassed David Freud off as a welfare “expert”, when they knew that was a lie, how can we be sure that Labour didn’t have a “target” figure for sanctions?.

    When you think of the character of Byrne (and Purnell before him) are they any less devious than Duncan-Smith?

    • John Ruddy

      You do know why Freud “defected” from Labour to the Tories in 2008, dont you? It was because the then Prime Minister wouldnt implement his report….

      • AlanGiles

        Not true.You said the same thing last week, and I pointed out to you then, as I do now, Brown allowed the callow Purnell to railroad the welfare reform bill through Parliament AFTER Freud had been bought by the Conservatives with a peerage.

        No doubt if labour had offered one first he would have accepted.
        But – Labour were the ones who commissioned and then implemented Freud.
        You can try to rewrite history, but it is there on the record.

        • aracataca

          Looks like JR is probably right on this one. Not another untruth Alan? When the hell is it going to stop?


          NB 3rd paragraph:

          ‘It is rumoured to be Gordon Brown’s continued opposition to Sir David’s welfare reforms plans which have sparked Freud’s defection to the Tories’.

          • AlanGiles

            I have no doubt that if a fifth-rate Shadow cabinet minister wrote on LL, about the tooth fairy you and your pal Mr Ruddy (the Hinge & Brackett of the site) would write supportive messages.

            Just because some people are naive and gullable enough to believe every word Byrne utters (and I wonder why, less than 24 hours before Mark’s piece was written, Byrne did’nt mention his excuse in his oily self-justification published late yesterday morning?) doesn’t mean we all fell off the Xmas tree.

            Frankly I don’t believe a word Byrne says. Or some of his predecssors. Purnell introduced the Freud reforms, and dragged them through an unwilling, but supine Labour backbench. That is truth, as for ther likes of Purnell – people who fiddle their expenses would fiddle anything.

            P.S: A “rumour” isn’t a fact: We saw and heard of the Freud reforms being touted by “Labour” when it happened. You and Johnny have probably forgotten in your enthusiasm to be good little loyalists.

          • aracataca

            So the Croydon Guardian is lying is it? I had quite forgotten that it was a Blairite propaganda sheet. The fact is Freud defected because Brown was against imposing his reforms and JR is right.
            BTW I have argued that the PLP should have opposed the government on Tuesday night.

          • AlanGiles

            Thats right William. Keep telling yourself that: “JR is right, JR is right”.

            Most of us can think for ourselves and we don’t need eager little sycophants to tell us what to think.

            I repeat a “Rumour” is NOT a fact. You seemed very keen on that third paragraph, but then, a drowning man will always clutch at straws.

          • aracataca

            I’m an unthinking loyalist? Why then have I stated my opposition to the position set out on Tuesday? As usual you make no sense whatsoever.

          • AlanGiles

            You are always very eager to find mitigating circumstances for any wrongdoing by Labour. Any excuse, however weak. There are things that, had it been a Conservative, rather than a Labour spokesperson who had said them, you would be up in arms about. If it’s Labour making pathetic excuses then thats fine by you.

            As for sense, frankly, Bill, apart from your sarcastic little remarks and your constant reiterating of your “Fib Dem” and “Mystic Meg” jokes (if that is what they are), I think, if I were you I would think twice before accusing anybody else.

            Liam Byrne is as big and menace and liar to the unemployed and disabled as Smith is – no wonder they are on “Dear Iain, Dear Liam” terms. Two bounders cut from the same cloth.

          • aracataca

            I’m sorry but since this lot came to power I have lost all the tax credits that I received for my severely disabled young son -every single penny of it. We were putting that money away for his future care costs. I have been privatised at work and lost my entitlement to contribute to my public service pension that I had been contributing to for 23 years. The parent company of my new private employer contributes significant sums of money to the Tory party so clearly they recognise a difference between a Tory government and a Labour one. The first thing my new employer did was cut my hours by 20%. Last year I was unlucky enough to get diagnosed with skin cancer. My local hospital Hinchingbroke has been completely privatised and the CEO of the company that runs it (Circle) contributes shedloads of money (£50k) to the Tory party so he too recognises that there is a difference between a Labour and Tory government. I had to wait for 6 months for my carcinoma to be excised during which time the carcinoma doubled in size leaving a very large and permanent scar on my face. Obviously I failed to realise the full benefits of a privatised hospital. So if you’ll forgive me I think I am able to realise the difference that a Labour government would make to me.

          • AlanGiles

            I am genuinely sorry for both your illness and that of your son, however, nothing that has happened in recent times makes me believe the NHS or anything else would be safer or better in Labour hands. Burnham, for all his posturing still wants competition in the NHS and is proud of (his version) of NHS Global, but understandably not that of the Coalitions, which is much the same thing.

            Miliband is proving to be a weak and inept leader, except for his scripted “jokes” at PMQs. He seems to display a remarkable lack of judgement if he was persuaded by Byrne to abstain on Tuesday, and the fact that, despite the avalanche of bad feeling this has caused Byrne is still in post demonstrates just how weak and out of touch he is.

            Sorry Bill. I hope things improve for you, but I think you are whistling in the wind if you think that Miliband’s Labour will be much better than what has gone before. Indeed, just think of Stafford and trhings don’t look that great for the previous Labour administration.

            I repeat, all three main parties are led by posturing preening weak little men, with mediocre front benches and timid little backbenchers. Cameron, Clegg, Miliband – they couldn’t run a bath, let alone a country

            I don’t think politics has ever been at such a low ebb in this country

          • aracataca

            Yes well with the Greens at 3% in the polls and the NHA at a similar level you will of course understand that I like many others are not going to throw our votes away on these parties. The only alternative to a Tory government is a Labour one -that’s reality and a Labour government can’t be any worse than this shower.

          • AlanGiles

            Bill, I can’t see the point of this verbal tennis match. I will never convince you and you will never convince me.

            I am genuinely sorry for anybodies misfortune, especially where illness and/or disability is concerned, but as Miliband hasn’t even got the courage to sack his oily DWP shadow minister, do you really think he would have the courage to change the status quo. Well, you might think he has, but, frankly, I find him weak, embarrassing and
            inadequate, not to mention several members of the shadow cabinet.

          • far to weak, he aint stood up for jack. infuriates me

          • Dave Postles

            Your circumstance is tragic and we all all terribly hurt by what has happened to you. Yes, Labour is probably your only salvation, but you might also realise too that some of us cannot vote on principle for Labour – not to criticise or prejudice you, but to hope that some minority party might act as a ginger group to push Labour in a more assertive direction. The PLP does not engage with extra-Parliamentary activity which has produced at least some gains. That said, I wish you and Labour well, but I cannot in any conscience vote for it. By hoping to return more Greens, the intention is that Labour will be pushed along to a more credible position.

          • aracataca

            My cancer isn’t terminal and I’m not poor so it isn’t that tragic but you can perhaps see that a top political priority for me is to turf this lot out at the next election. Any other consideration is secondary. IMHO voting Green or HSA is principled perhaps but ultimately it’s a futile gesture.

          • scary, omg all corrupt the lot of them

          • labour are as bad

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            You have my sympathy for your recent circumstances, and for those of your son.

            There is a procedure for complaints about the NHS, but without knowing any of the specifics of your case, I cannot possibly comment, nor would about an individual on a blog. However, have a look through this to see if you think you may have formal grounds for complaint. It looks complex, but you will be able to work through it. Your GP will be able to help you. The key point is that there is a “clinical pathway” (or “patient pathway”, which is a series of steps, and waiting times are actually measured from step to step, not end to end. Follow through the clinical pathway that you took, and if you do not still have the dates of your various appointments, your GP surgery should be able to reproduce them for you. Then look to see if the periods of weeks / days exceeded between steps on the pathway the guidelines.

            Also, remember that the waiting times are not a “queue” – people can jump ahead of you if their condition is worse than yours, or can be bypassed through a number of steps if the need is critical. You would I hope see that as fair.


          • your so right torys inflicted the suffering on the vulnerable, not labour, to be honest all partys cant b trusted, we need an honest party, no one as defended those we should as a nation protect, now it is coming out, people want to play the blame game, instead of making a stand for what is right, decent and moral, and put up a fight for those, to ill, or mentally incapable, any one with a consience, need make a stand, im a mere woman, and i do all i can to help the suffering, im ashamed to look around, and see im one of a few, for the first time in my 54 yrs, i can say, with good reason, im ashamed of this country, and all those that have allowed corruption, children are starving, elderly are freezing, crisis is in crisis, still the corruption goes on, and brown stepped down, for less then this evil

          • your right alan, you speak true facts

          • But why ask someone like Freud in the first place? Why not ask someone from the CAB or the CPAG who actually knows something about the topic. Freud knows nothing and what he does know should have been enough to brand him utterly beyond the pale.

          • AlanGiles

            Exactly Mike, Blair introduced Freud in 2006 as a welfare “expert” – yet another lie in a long list of Blair’s lies. Freud was an investment banker and his expertise lies in the boardroom, the dealing room. Just another example of Blair fawning to the City.

            That Mr Ruddy denies that Labour introduced the Freud Reforms and were on the statute book in 2009 seems to me, frankly, a grotesque and macabre denial of truth. The fact is Freud wrote a report based on ignorance, which Labour accepted as it suited their new “tough” stance, is one of their most shameful escapades, only matched by their gutless decision this week when they gave a helping hand to Duncan-Smith to promote retrospective law. Yet even now, Byrne and his cronies try to find a pathetic excuse for bad behaviour

          • John Reid

            Are you saying the tooth fairies not true, how else d’you think labours going to fund all these benefit rises, if we vote against welfare reform and get in, the tooth fairy must be true as if old labour win the way we could get the money for welfare is to get all that money she puts under kids pillows,

          • Clare Sheldon

            They could always do something REALLY radical like raise income tax slightly.

      • Monkey_Bach

        I remember James Purnell boasting that Labour was going to, “… actually go further than Freud.” For example Freud did not recommend workfare in the report he wrote for Labour, saying that it showed no discernible positive effect. Purnell was up for it though and wanted to give all the long-term unemployed six months of it hard. Funny old world ain’t it? Eeek.

  • aracataca

    Of course the PLP should have voted against this measure but if an independent review of sanctions was secured by abstaining then as you say Mark there may well have been some logic to the PLP’s position on Tuesday.An independent review of sanctions is always going to have more impact than a declaration of knowledge of sanction targets by opposition MPs in Parliament.

  • Byrne is desperately bullshitting – he really has no excuse for what he did – if he really cared about people being unfairly sanctioned he would have opposed IDS’s unbelievably repugnant piece of legislation with all his might – but he’s in reality a tory too – he simply lacked the perspicacity we expect a Secretary of State to see, and what is as clear as a bell to ordinary workers. after the event, he sees his error, and knows it was huge – he has incurred the wrath of Unite – but ‘oops!’ isn’t going to work again, is it?
    Michael Meacher really knows social security stuff, has paid his dues, and has integrity.

  • I fail to see why an abstention was required to get concessions from the Tories. Once the Bill had been suitably timetabled it was just a matter of the government whips getting their MPs in order. Labour’s decision to abstain or oppose is of no consequence to the Bill, but makes a huge difference within the Labour Party.

  • Steve

    For a change, this month can we have a least popular shadow minister? Don’t suppose you get much odds on who would win though.

  • dancingroads

    Pathetic excuse trotted out to appease members and supporters who are rightly outraged by Byrnes betrayal.

    You don’t need an independent enquiry into sanctions targets. Any jobseeker or any front line job centre worker could have told you this years ago. The Guardian revealed this in 2011.

  • Hugh

    Did this story come to from the same source who told you Balls and Brown fell out over the 10p tax rate?

    I’ve changed my mind, I think a Royal Charter for blogs might be useful.

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  • AlanGiles

    UPDATE Saturday 23rd March:

    One of Haverings wards had a by election on Thursday. I am not suggesting the Byrne farce was the only reason for it, but this is one Labour lost ….To UKIP!. I should explain that Gooshays is quite a poor area of Havering – it’s not leafy Cranham by any means.


    Of course it might just be that it was only UKIP and the revolting BNP who conducted high profile campaigns, and therefore made themselves visible. Like trombonists in a brass band all the other parties just let things slide.

    • No, Labour didn’t lose it. The Tories did. Its actually a seat which is very BNP, they held it recently, but this time, although the Labour vote stayed about the same percentage wise, the BNP and Conservative vote collapsed and UKIP benefitted. Its in the Romford constituency which epitomises the populist, right wing white-van-man tendency, and frankly, I’m glad we lost it. I’d be seriously worried if I thought we were starting to appeal to this sort of voter. You are right – Gooshays isn’t a wealthy area – but it is classic right wing EssexMan territory. I think you may well find that attitudes towards claimants, particularly if they are black, would make the Tories look like communists

      • AlanGiles

        With respect, Mike There is one Labour councillor in Gooshays, and until the BNP took over a few years back it had Labour prior to that. The only ward in Havering, at the moment, to have all Labour councillors is Heaton, of the three one is an ex MP of the area. These two wards represent probably the poorest areas of Havering now. Most areas have either Conservative, RA or Independent councillors, though the Conservatives have a large majority

        This is a list of all of the current councillors, with the exception of Laurence Webb who won for UKIP this week:


  • Gabrielle

    Owen Jones has been furious about this welfare sanctions/Byrne business as well, although he’s been pointing out to people who’ve been telling him to abandon Labour in favour of the Greens, TUSC or whoever, that he disagrees. As someone who’s closely studied political history, he can point to numerous left wing parties that abandoned Labour in disgust, going right back to the 1900s – and they all ended up in the political graveyard. So, as aracataca and others have mentioned, there may well be much to criticise about Labour, but they are *still* our best hope of kicking out the real enemy.

    I do think Miliband will surprise the naysayers once he (hopefully) gets into office in 2015.

    • Monkey_Bach

      Miliband has already surprised many of us by his conduct in respect to welfare sanctions vote… and NOT in a good way! Surprised? Flabbergasted more like!Eeek.

  • AlanGiles

    Perhaps you think by kow-towing to the right wing of Labour and the Conservatives, you will win them over?. Didn’t work at Gooshays on Thursday did it?.

    John, if people want the Tories they will vote for the real thing, not people like you acting all tough.

  • Monkey_Bach

    Well, Liam Byrne may well not be flavour of the month with LabourList readers but Byrne and Stephen Timms do seem to be appreciated by Mark Hoban MP, Tory Minister of State for Work and Pensions (and Iain Duncan Smith’s little helper) who said:

    “I would like to put it on record that I am grateful for the constructive way in which the hon. Members for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) and for East Ham (Stephen Timms) have approached this topic (Jobseekers’ Bill). In supporting this Bill they have allowed us to expedite its progress, thus safeguarding taxpayers’ money.”

    So that’s alright then, isn’t it?

    No doubt these friends will go out for a drink to celebrate their victory in the near future.


  • UKAzeri


    Wouldn’t this new revelation in itself present a perfect opportunity to demand that very same independent inquiry? Imagine the damage to the coalition if they would have refused? Instead now, the review is buried away from the public and aside from couple of Guardian articles noone heard of this. A call for public inquiry would have exposed this practice!!

    Finally, if they knew this in advance wouldn’t it be even more of a reason to vote against the bill, knowing that any right wing press attack can be deflected only a few days later?

    This whole thing is turning into insult after injury!!!
    I am done though…

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  • Rosie2

    “Freud easily fought off a Labour attempt to include a reference to the use of targets by jobcentre managers in the terms of reference of the proposed inquiry into sanctions”

    So that worked well then….

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