Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Labour's 2013 conference policy announcements: they're a start

Many have harshly and rightfully criticised Ed Miliband's Labour Party leadership for failing to sufficiently differentiate itself from, and oppose, the policies perpetrated by David Cameron's government and the Conservative Party. In response to this, the party has come out with a raft of policy announcements seemingly directed to appease these concerns; they have had the effect, in my observations, of improving the Labour Party's standing amongst its progressive and socialist critics. I certainly do not disapprove of these policy commitments, which were detailed in what was probably the best speech of Ed Miliband's career thus far, but there are certain hitches and uncertainties attached to some of them which inhibit me from being extremely enthusiastic about them. (The italicised text is my own description of them).

  • Labour will increase the fine for employers who fail to pay their workers the minimum wage by 1000% from £5,000 to £50,000. It is quite right that penalty for this should at least be equal for the maximum fine for fly-tipping. However, it falls short of a commitment to introduce a living wage. (Or very ideally, a universal guaranteed Basic Income). Addressing economic inequality through improved wage conditions would also reduce the burden on state of the social security system's subsidy of poverty wages. Labour is still decidedly set in the capitalist wage labour model despite Miliband's pronouncements against inequality and perpetually diminishing living standards: it goes without saying that all of these things are mutually innate.
  • Labour will freeze energy bills for gas electricity until 2017. Though this would be will a welcome financial relief to thousands of households, it will only be a temporary fix. It will do nothing to resolve the endemic problems of fuel poverty or rising energy costs contributing to diminishing living standards. British Gas has complained that the proposal to freeze consumer energy costs would be a detriment to their operations. I would be happy to force the fuel poverty profiteering big energy firms into bankruptcy so they could be taken into public ownership.
  • Labour will abolish the bedroom tax and build one million new homes. It is quite right that the cruel and nefarious bedroom tax should be repealed, but this is a hollow commitment from Labour if it does include the forgiveness of all rent arrears caused by it, as well as the reimbursement of bedroom tax payed by social tenants; especially those who have been punished for "spare rooms" needed because of a disability. It should also be noted that Labour councils are among those enforcing the bedroom tax and threatening tenants unable to afford it with eviction. If all Labour councils took after the Green Party council in Brighton, and the SNP government in Scotland, and defied the government and refused to enforce the bedroom tax, it would greatly contribute in the here and now to defeating the policy, as well as rejuvenating Labour in terms of grassroots support and activism. Ed Miliband also rightfully condemned the rouge landlords who exploit migrants, but he has yet to cite public subsidy of private landlords' extortionate rents as the real culprit of the soaring Housing Benefit bill, or proposed substantial regulation of the private rented sector to reduce it.
  • Labour will abolish Atos Healthcare's role in disability benefit assessments, as well as overhaul the Work Capability Assessment for Employment Support Allowance. Though Atos are infamous for their absurdly cruel and incompetent decisions when dealing with disabled and sick persons' benefit applications, it is the entire assessment process itself, as noted by the British Medical Association and numerous disability charities, which is fundamentally inhumane and broken. There should be no role for non-medical private sector contractors in assessment disability or illness at all. Ideally, professionals within the National Health Service, who are actually medically qualified and driven by duty of care rather than payment by statistic profiteering like Atos, should be the prime authority for deciding allocation of financial support to disabled people.

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