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Rachel Reeves: Look on the bright side - at least she isn't Liam Byrne.

Rachel Reeves: Look on the bright side – at least she isn’t Liam Byrne.

Was anyone else underwhelmed by Rachel Reeves’ speech in this years Labour conference?

Not by the promise to take the Bedroom Tax off the statute books, obviously. That has been a settled part of Labour policy since, well, since it landed on the statute books back in 2012. We should not take it for granted, though – and we must always remember that the Bedroom Tax won’t be going anywhere if the Blue Meanies manage to hang on to control after May next year.

But is anybody really convinced by her ‘Jobs Guarantee’? Is it really likely to work, or is it just another ‘make-work’ scheme? What difference will it make if private companies running the current work programme/mandatory work activity/workfare/whatever-they’re-called-today schemes are replaced by local councils and communities? Vox Political is based in Powys and the council here wouldn’t know how to help anybody get back into work off the back of any such scheme. Why should it be different elsewhere?

Do we really need a ‘Basic Skills Test’? Isn’t that an indictment of our education system – and shouldn’t that be where the skills gap ought to be tackled?

Did chills go up anybody else’s spine when Reeves mentioned a “pensions market“? Do we need a pensions market? Do you want to have to shop around for the best pension for you? Don’t you pay your National Insurance for the government to sort out that side of things and not make a mess of it?

And what did she mean by “tailored support” for disabled people who can work? By whose standards?

What did you make of her comments about the work capability assessment? “We need real reform”, she said. No! We don’t need reform! We need to scrap it altogether! It has never been fit for purpose; it never will be. The very word “assessment”, linked to a person’s sickness or disability, is tainted beyond reform. All that is necessary – all that has ever been necessary – is written confirmation of a person’s condition from – guess who? – a doctor. Work capability assessments are a waste of money and a risk to the health of sick and disabled people.

She said: “I give you this commitment: as Secretary of State I will come down hard on any contractor that gets these critical assessments wrong, or fails to treat disabled people with the decency and respect they deserve.” Do you think any such contractor was quaking in their boots at the thought of that? No.

What is she going to do about the Tories’ vindictive ‘mandatory reconsideration’ system? Will she agree to pay benefits to claimants while they await a decision, or will she forget them like the Tories forgot the ex-Remploy workers she mentioned in her speech?

She said Universal Credit was “stuck in first gear” – but made no promise to get rid of it. Its aim, under Tory control, is to ensure the government doesn’t have to spend as much money on benefit claimants. Even if Labour changes that – after it has been made to work at all, which is a hard battle in itself – there will be no way to stop the Tories changing it back into a weapon if the public ever becomes stupid enough to vote them back into office again. It would be far better to devise a scheme that the Tories could not pervert – difficult though such a task may be.

There was more good material than the Bedroom Tax, and it would be wrong to gloss over that. The plan to increase the Living Wage is good, and so is the plan to increase the minimum wage. But critics say the minimum wage provides employers with an excuse to reduce all pay to that still-paltry amount, so why isn’t she saying Labour will combat that? Labour could encourage companies to become employee-owned co-operatives; as co-owners, workers could ensure equitable rates of pay. These measures would go a long way to eliminating the “in-work benefit” element of the social security bill.

Labour should be going further, though. It should be renationalising railway firms that aren’t performing well enough, either by overcharging passengers, failing to invest in the service or simply demanding too high a subsidy from the taxpayer. These firms are supposed to be private – if we are still supporting them, we should still own them. At least, that way, we’d get the profits rather than some faceless shareholder.

Also on the nationalisation list should be power companies and water firms. The energy business seems to be a cartel, organised to screw customers out of as much money as possible – on pain of losing the power necessary to heat and light their homes, and cook their food. That must end. Whatever contract they were given when they were privatised, they have reneged on the deal and should be brought back under public control.

As for the water firms – they’re just tax avoidance schemes, aren’t they? Also, Yr Obdt Srvt seems to recall that one firm sold around 25 reservoirs to France, so they get the benefit of our water during hot summers while we have to suffer drought. That’s not why these firms were sold off. They should come back under public control, with stiff penalties for the shareholders who have abused the public trust.

Come to that, what about the construction industry? We need hundreds of thousands more homes – especially one- and two-bedroomed dwellings – to be defined as social housing, in order to stave off more Tory “captive victim” schemes like the Bedroom Tax. Why won’t the government employ the builders to carry out this work, starting on brown-field sites and avoiding green belt land, for the sake of the future?

Investment in work of this kind could revive the UK’s fortunes in a stroke – and would infinitely improve Labour’s offer to the public. The Attlee government did far more, starting from a far worse financial position so there is no reason to hesitate.

But Rachel Reeves has nothing to say about it.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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