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


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.

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