Are Labour and Liam Byrne finally “getting it” on welfare?

21st August, 2013 1:58 pm

Shhhh! Don’t say it too loudly! But Liam Byrne just made a speech on welfare that shows he’s finally starting to get it!

I know, I know, it takes some getting used to, but mainly, he points out the utter mess Iain Duncan-Smith and David Cameron have made of welfare “reform”.

There’s even a joke that’s quite funny : “”There is now a private joke in Whitehall. To err is human. But to really foul things up you need Iain Duncan Smith.”

On ESA Byrne finally calls it “an almighty mess that is profoundly hurting some of the most vulnerable people in Britain.” And crucially accepts on Atos “Yes, we hired them. But, yes we’d fire them unless there’s a radical improvement.

He shows that ESA tribunals alone will have cost £287 million over the life of this parliament. Over a quarter of a billion pounds.

He points out that the Work Programme is missing “every single one of its minimum performance targets”

He says that the reform of disability benefits is in “chaos” and he’s right.

He calls the Bedroom Tax “A policy that is the worst possible combination of incompetence and cruelty.” He calls for it to be “dropped and dropped now.”

I know most people dislike Byrne. I know he’s given them good reason over the last few years. But for my sins, I’ve had rather a lot to do with the Labour shadow welfare team and if one were to actually sit down and read the last three or four major welfare speeches Byrne has made (not the Telegraph soundbites, the actual speeches) we have travelled a very long way indeed.

You would find a shadow minister who actually understands his brief very well now. A shadow minister who has put disability at the heart of welfare discussions for some time. A team who have tried at least to listen and act, who I know are working very hard on policies we might actually like. The speeches still use broad strokes, there is little meat on the bones, but if you read Liam’s speech today and compare it to anything we’ve heard from any coalition minister, I think you would have to conclude we’re winning the war. (Though too many battles can still be lost…)

Would I have chosen Byrne as shadow work and pensions minister? Oh dear no. But after three years of hard slog, arguing, cajoling, explaining and yes, nagging, I don’t believe he’s the same man who made this disastrous attempt to out-Tory the Tories.

And just as we’re getting somewhere, just as things start to improve, just as Byrne finally seems to get what we’re all jumping up and down about, we hear Ed might sack him in the re-shuffle!!!

Maybe it would be a good thing, Maybe we’d get someone much better at fighting the DWP. Maybe we’d feel at last we had a champion, but I wonder how likely that is? Do read today’s speech.

If we simply ended up with another arrogant politician who thinks he has all the answers before he actually understands what the questions are, I think I might throw myself under a bus.

So, better the devil you know? (Even when “devil” might be a little too appropriate?) Or do we jump in with a new devil, with the drawback of them knowing chuff all about welfare disability or the maze of complications, smokescreens and lies that is the DWP?

I don’t know, really I don’t, but I hope Ed does.

Value our free and unique service?

LabourList has more readers than ever before - but we need your support. Our dedicated coverage of Labour's policies and personalities, internal debates, selections and elections relies on donations from our readers.

If you can support LabourList’s unique and free service then please click here.

To report anything from the comment section, please e-mail [email protected]
  • Monkey_Bach

    Liam, like Saul, on the road to Damascus? You gorra be kiddin’ ain’t’cha?


  • It was clear from the interview on the World at One today that, when it comes to rent and housing benefit, Byrne just doesn’t get it. Housing benefit goes to landlords not tenants. It is a landlord’s subsidy.

    And the reason housing benefit is necessary is because politicians like Byrne have neglected to implement sufficient house building measures.

    Someone needs to spell this out to Byrne.

    The distance between politicians and those they are supposed to represent has become disastrously wide.

    • Monkey_Bach

      As an indication of where “Blue Labour” might be lead the Labour Party in today’s The Times the increasingly dotty Maurice Glasman suggests replacing Liam Byrne as Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions with… wait for it… wait for it… Frank Field! To prove that Labour is REALLY SERIOUS about welfare reform.

      I’ll just leave that titbit of news hanging there, like a joint of maggoty meat rotting on the bone.


      • $6215628

        I know Glasman had a meeting the other day with Field, any proof that Glasman is dotty

  • RedMiner

    “He points out that the Work Programme is missing “every single one of its minimum performance targets”

    And then goes on signal its massive expansion through more Workfare schemes that he calls ‘Welfare to work” in the Orwellian dialogue of modern politics.

    This guy understands social security like bandits understand a sheriff’s badge.

    He says UC won’t be dumped. A disgusting benefit aimed at reducing accessibility, increasing sanctions, and bringing the low paid into that sanctions regime.

    Vote Labour for more Workfare, more chaos, more people dying found ‘fit for work’.

  • giselle97

    Disagree utterly! Byrne has brought more ridicule on the Labour Party than he should have been allowed to get away with – he is also a threat because he wants to get his own way rather than “the team’s way”. With threats, you remove them. You do not keep them inside the tent any longer. He needs to be removed from Social Security altogether and hidden away somewhere else.

  • BusyBeeBuzz

    This sounds like a grovelling plea to forgive Byrne for being such a moron! He is not intelligent enough to be a devil. I can’t have any faith in a Labour Minister who fails to understand that by forcing the PLP to abstain on the Jobseekers (Back to Work) Bill he (and they) undermined the Rule of Law and breached Article 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998. Furthermore, he clearly doesn’t understand that retrospective fast tracked legislation should only be used in an emergency such as war.

    If the Labour Party made more of an effort to get disabled MPs, then they would have MPs who know a lot about welfare disability and the maze of complications, smokescreens and DWP lies.

  • Mike Homfray

    I think he’s just desperately trying to hang on

    I don’t trust him or think he is in the least sincere

    Get rid and replace him with Kate Green

    • reformist lickspittle

      I am slightly more charitable. Slightly.

      I think that Byrne has quite possibly learned a bit about reality – as opposed to “bubble” Blairite myths – regarding our failing welfare/social security system in the last year. But it is too late; he is irredeemably tainted in this present role.

      Maybe he has done just enough to stay on the SC in some capacity, though.

      • treborc1

        I doubt he has learned much just that keeping his job matters to him

  • Timmo111

    So one speech and all is forgiven.
    He asks for the so called bedroom tax to be dropped but he hasn’t said that he would get rid of it, atos was profoundly hurting disabled people when labour chose to hire them, you know before the crash, but they weren’t fired. Until labour apologise for the hurt they caused disabled people and stop using them to score political points any thing they say must be taken with a pinch of salt.

    • Sue Marsh

      Not one speech Timmo. There were the two Beveridge speeches, the Disability speech, the Ed Miliband welfare speech, this one. There’s Making Rights a Reality and the new Disability task force.

      If you can say hand on heart you read them all and you feel the same way I absolutely respect that.

      The second link shows clearly how I’ve attacked Byrne in the past. If I feel there has been genuine change,is it not important to point it out or is it better I just write what people want to hear?

      • Timmo111

        The fact of the matter remains, labour laid the foundations for what is happening now a few years before Byrnes hilarious letter that he left for the next government. I know that you are a labour campaigner and will forgive them no matter what, but until they apologise for atos and sack Byrne anything they say is meaningless.

    • PaulHalsall

      Sue, Byrnn does seem to have got better, but what about the *healthy* unemployed. A neighbour of mine, today went to do his two weekly show which always leaves him with nothing left. But found he had been “sanctioned” for two weeks (which equals 4 weeks w/o money) simply because he mistook a date and went late for a groundworks interview. I happen to know he religiously meets all DWP demands.

      What the hell is supposed to do? He will get a minimal “hardship” payment, and a grow your own initiative on the estate will provide some veggies, and a food bank some food.

      But the DWP had gone wild with sanctions.

      I am surprised there is still public peace, but it is going to break down as in the 1980s.

  • BusyBeeBuzz

    While we are on the subject of welfare:
    The Low Commission was set up to investigate the future of advice on social welfare law issues in England and Wales. The Commission Consultation Report is now available to read at:

    The Commission is now calling for your views on this Report. There are 2 ways in which you can do this. You can express your views via a feedback form or by attending one of the following open meetings:
    • Cardiff 4 Sept
    • London 5 Sept
    • Manchester 19 Sept
    If you would like to attend one of these events, please contact Sara Ogilvie at: [email protected] to reserve a place.
    If you prefer to post your views, then please do so via a feedback form which you can find at:

  • Monkey_Bach

    Well, let’s put it this way…

    Anybody who thinks that Ed Miliband could promote Frank Field, a man who once briefly occupied the post of Minister for Welfare Reform in the first Blair government, whose theories in respect to welfare were so extreme that Tony Blair summarily sacked him from that post in short order, and who recently became “Poverty Tsar” to the Conservative led coalition, supplying it with a report, commissioned by David Cameron (who wanted to keep a few tame Labour politicians as pets), that nobody cared about or bothered to read once it had been completed, and who was named as the 100th most-influential right-winger in the United Kingdom by the Telegraph – ipso facto the official organ of the Tory Party – must by any reasonable definition of insanity be considered barking bloody mad.



    • $6215628

      Blau also sacked Harriwt Harman at the same time, Blair was scared if the left of the party t that time, getting rid of Harman at the same time was done to satisfy the Tory press, and labour said it wouldn’t reverse the Tory welfare reforms, Blair wand those reform but was to scared of the old left in the party to implement them, those people have since left the party, so Glasman wanting him ,doesn’t mean that he’s nuts, and that’s one view he has not all of them, saying QED doesn’t make it so anymore than saying eek, does.

  • RedMiner

    If Byrne really ‘got it’, he’d be talking about the failure of the Work Capability Assessment, and how its biopyschosocial theory allows it to find people hours from death ‘fit for work’.

    He would be talking about the £7 billion wasted on ‘welfare to work’ programmes, namely, the WP, which actually pays companies for taking on free workfare placements (at the expense of the taxpayer) to replace their regular workers!

    He would be talking about the right to work, a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, and not promising more Workfare, and more funds to be poured into shambolic welfare-to-work companies that do little else than sit people in front of obsolete computers and threaten them with sanctions.

    He would be talking about the gross injustice of benefit sanctions themselves, given for the most spurious of reasons, which impoverish people to the extent of leaving them reliant on foodbanks and money-lenders. Foodbanks! in one of the richest countries in the world!

    He would be talking about the massive cost of Housing Benefit, which goes into the coffers of landlords, not claimants as the tabloids pretend; he would be talking about the occupants themselves, deported to some Godforsaken place at the other end of the country, away from their families and support networks.

    Liam Byrne doesn’t get it. He never has got it. He never will get it. If Miliband shows himself incapable of even dumping this perennial dud, then it’s time to start looking for someone who can.

  • swatnan

    Trouble is the Tories never have never understood the concept of ‘Welfare’.
    We need to go back to 1949, and look again at what it was meant to be and work, as a safety net, and nothing more. ‘Welfare’ has grown, like Topsy, and created a culture of dependency. Byrne doesn’t understand it either.

  • Monkey_Bach

    Life was absolutely bloody awful for too many people in 1949 whether they happened to be in work or not. Really, really, really bad. If we can’t do better for the British people in the second decade of the twenty-first century than seek to drag them back to a miserable time as pinched as that we all might as well throw up our hands and give up the ghost. Eeek.

    • JoeDM

      Where is that individual’s responsibility to provide for one’s self and on’s family?

  • Monkey_Bach

    You seem remarkably well informed about thoughts entertained by Anthony Charles Lynton Blair. I only have limited knowledge as per what Blair did historically, and what he said publicly, not what he thought privately, or would have secretly liked to do, if he could have, or how afraid of the left of the Labour Party he actually was in reality.

    (Not that much I would imagine or I doubt our armed forces would have taken part in an invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.)

    My point stands:

    “Anybody who thinks that Ed Miliband could promote Frank Field… must by any reasonable definition of insanity be considered barking bloody mad.”

    There is no way on earth that Field could be a minister.

    Glasman MUST be crazy to think otherwise.



    • “Glasman IS crazy to fantasise otherwise.”

      Perhaps the purpose of Glasman’s suggestion is to make us feel grateful when Byrne is kept in position as shadow work and pensions minister, i.e. it could have been worse.

      Indeed, Sue’s post seems intended to diminish reaction to the bad news.

      • Monkey_Bach

        Ah! Reverse psychology I think it’s called. I should have had more sense than to pay even cursory attention to ne of Glasman’s outbursts.


        • “As much as I dislike Liam Byrne I much prefer him to Frank Field”

          There we are – the tactic is working! Job done. Let’s be grateful for small mercies.

          Eeek, eeek. Gulp.

          • Monkey_Bach

            Byrne and Field would both mutilate the welfare state if given half a chance. However I reckon Byrne would just chop off its digits and leave the thumb behind, preserving a certain amount of limited functionality, dexterity, and some ability to do good in the world and to help small numbers of the suffering. Field in contrast would hack both hands of the welfare state off at the wrist; nothing much, worth much of anything, would remain if ascetic and shrivelled Franky-boy was let loose at the DWP.

            Isn’t it weird that religious people – Tony Blair, Iain Duncan Smith, Francis Field et al – are the ones most capable of carrying out atrocious acts of cruelty, pretending all the while that they’re out to help people improve their lives and do much good in the world?

            I thank God all monkeys are atheists!


          • $6215628

            As much as I dislike John Reid he was only the second worse Home Secretary ever after David blunkett,
            As much as I dislike Tom Watson, he was only the second biggest bully under a own compared to Chrlie whelan, as much as I dislike progress, there not as bad as Len Mcklusky,
            See it’s working

    • $6215628

      Blair. Was only unbothered by the left of the party after 2001′ when he’d won a landslide without their help Benn and Livingstone not voting labour in those elections, he got rid of Field in 1998″ when he still trying to appease the left and do things he didn’t Believe in like Foi’ or Scottish devolution,
      the fact that he mucked up on aIRAQ ,doesn’t deter the fact that he thought field was right on welfare and that he back tracked as he knew Harmqn was rowing with field,


  • Jack Fate

    I think this article misses one of the pleasing aspects of Byrne’s speech – the return to the use of ‘social security’ rather than ‘welfare’

  • Simon

    Liam is complaining about waste. Just for some perspective John Prescott wasted more than Liam is whining about on a single scheme.

    Wake up people – Liam is only impressing the already impressed. Back on the streets his outburst is barely registering and even when it does no one cares (apart from the welfare takers that IDSs policy affects (and that is really thin ice to be on)

    • Monkey_Bach

      Nothing here has much to do with people “on the streets” but everything to do with Byrne jostling for position and influence within the Labour Party’s ranks. I doubt if many of the politically naive even know who Liam Byrne is or even that he exists at all.


  • Sue Marsh

    RedMiner – You know I respect you very much, but he does talk about 4 out of those five things in this very speech!

    • RedMiner

      He mentions them, yes, and then offers more of the same failed Tory solutions: more welfare-to-work schemes, more Workfare, more UC.

      He should be using the £7 billion being poured into the coffers of A4e and the like to provide high quality training for the unemployed and disabled people, not free workers for Asda. Ditto the hundreds of millions being spent on Atos and the sham WCA. Ditto the £12 billion being wasted on UC simply in order to bring the low paid into the DWP’s sanction’s regime, and make life even more unbearable for the jobless. This is serious amounts of money that could do serious good if used properly and not simply as redistribution from the poor to the wealthy. £82 billion is being cut from the social security budget. People are paying for their own enslavement.

      Byrne offers nothing but better administrated Tory policies. His heart is in sanctions and cuts. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him join the Tories eventually. I can’t imagine want mental gymnastics ever persuaded him he belonged in the Labour Party.

  • Monkey_Bach

    I don’t really know what you’re talking about here.

    Are you saying that sick and disabled people should be made responsible for all of their own needs, and those of their families, and that help given to them by the State should be withdrawn? Should no help be extended to poor part-time workers any more? Should the unemployed be unhomed and left to starve if they can’t persuade an employer to give them a job? Should help be stripped from single parents? Widows? Or should we put a bit of stick about in the case of the small number of people living in the UK who have very large families, whether they happen to be working or not? Or are you just having a pop at benefit claimants generally? I’m more than a bit confused.

    As far as the jobless go these people right now have an obligation to accept any offer of paid work or lose their benefits instantly. (And, in point of fact, if you take the time to google it you will discover that hundreds of thousands of people already have been sanctioned, very often for trivial, preposterous, and ridiculous reasons.) As I type these words now millions of people in this country, including pretty much EVERY low paid full-time or part-time worker, would not be able to live, have a home, and raise a family wholly and solely on their earned income without some sort of help from the State. This fact has nothing to do with such individuals shirking their responsibilities but everything to do with how society, our country, and the world has changed over the last fifty or sixty years. In the 1940s a day labourer or manual worker could afford to rent a house and raise a (often very large) family on wages paid to him for work done: people with trades or professions were pretty much guaranteed a secure job for life. These days this isn’t the case. Manual jobs that provided living wages for huge numbers of men, women, and families, have disappeared and won’t return because of advances made in production methods and technology. Wages and salaries have not matched the cost of living and without support from the State millions of people, including many innocent children, would end up destitute on the street.

    I wouldn’t want to live in a country like that.

    Impoverishing people won’t enable them to earn more or encourage them to be more responsible now any more than it did in the past where life expectancy and child mortality were much shorter and much greater, respectively. I would hate to see atrocious things begin to happen on the streets of British cities like those I have witnessed on visits to New York, Brasilia, and Bombay.

    As far as I’m concerned “responsibility” is all about doing your best not being expected to factually do the impossible.


  • Monkey_Bach

    Is English your first language? Eeek.

    • JohnPReid

      No this is a stupid Tory policy

    • treborc1

      John is actually a secretary of his Labour local labour party.

      • JohnPReid

        Pay attention ,I jacked that in,6 weeks ago to concentrate on organising the local and general election campaigns,

  • Monkey_Bach

    My command of English is nowhere near bad enough to enable me to fathom patois: this post is far too “street” for me to understand.



  • IanCarle

    The problem with this speech isn’t what he says,it’s what he doesn’t say. He doesn’t say “we will scrap the bedroom tax”,nor does he say “we will change the criteria upon which WCA’s are based”,nor does he say “we will bring back ESA”. He doesn’t even say we will put an end to 100% benefit sanctions”.

  • treborc1

    I remember Miliband saying, I knocked on a door, a disabled man came to the door, it was obvious he could do something.
    I went next door to a working chap and he confirmed it.

    We all know what the activist said Sue do we not, and we know that MIliband foot in mouth moment.

    But he said last year that he backed the Tories over welfare reforms, and then said he backed the Tories over PIP’s.


LabourList Daily Email

Everything Labour. Every weekday morning

Share with your friends