Rachel Reeves’ weak speech has little to offer but social insecurity

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.

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  1. John September 23, 2014 at 1:44 am - Reply

    Sounds like you are swinging in behind the Green Party.

    • Mike Sivier September 23, 2014 at 11:23 pm - Reply

      The Greens have lots of good ideas but no traction. I’ve said before (in real life if not here) that I could see a lot of good in a merger of Labour and the Greens; it would give Labour some environmental savvy and a little more of the left-wing appeal it lost with Blair, and it would give the Greens the extra reach they lack at the moment.

  2. joanna may September 23, 2014 at 4:29 am - Reply

    I have sent this article to my MP. I don’t know if it will do any good but we can hope!

    • Mike Sivier September 23, 2014 at 9:36 am - Reply

      Who’s your MP?

      • joanna may September 30, 2014 at 10:27 am - Reply

        Alan Johnson

        • Mike Sivier September 30, 2014 at 10:33 am - Reply

          What about him?

      • joanna may September 30, 2014 at 5:50 pm - Reply

        You ask me who my mp is, then you say what about him? considering I have already made a comment above which led you ask who he is, it sounds a little mocking, though I put half of what I am feeling down to depression. I also realise that you have so much on your plate, yet you still try to help everyone else and I thank you!!

        I had originally said that I have sent him a link to your article, I am only trying to help! In an insane world you seem to be the sanest voice!!

        • Mike Sivier September 30, 2014 at 6:29 pm - Reply

          Sorry – I’d lost track of the conversation. Must be more tired than I thought.
          To be honest, I have a doubt that he’ll be interested but he does come from a working background, which is at least a start.

  3. Jeffrey Davies September 23, 2014 at 6:26 am - Reply

    Rachel Reeves welfare she said would be looked at (sorryi forgoten words she spoke* but this woman is just like ed b another little tory im afrais blair finished the labour party off completly jeff3

    • Mike Sivier September 23, 2014 at 9:36 am - Reply

      No he didn’t, Jeff.

  4. Smiling Carcass September 23, 2014 at 6:39 am - Reply

    I think Labour are afraid of sounding too ‘lefty’. They still think the middle England vote is the road to govt., and that may be so but it doesn’t help the sick, disabled, underpaid and homeless.

    I think they might be surprised at the result of a shift back to the left they disengaged from so many years ago.

    • Mike Sivier September 23, 2014 at 9:35 am - Reply

      This is what someone said to me on a Facebook group, very late last night after I put up the article – that a shift to the “far left” won’t make Labour electable.
      It surprised me because I don’t consider anything I proposed to be a shift to the far left.
      If I had called for the renationalisation of ALL industry, with all profits being taken by the state and redistributed amongst the people, along with the end of the Monarchy and the aristocracy and the redistribution of all their wealth – THAT would be a shift to the “far left”!
      But I didn’t suggest that. While I’ve got no time for anyone who thinks they’re better than me just because one of their ancestors was a bully, I don’t think it’s healthy to stifle private enterprise. If somebody has a business, they should be entitled to work on building it. How else are new ideas going to come along?

      • Smiling Carcass September 24, 2014 at 7:03 am - Reply

        In defence of a shift to the far left, Lenin’s New Economic Policy allowed for some capitalism and entrepreneurism.

        I was never an advocate of the old 1960’s maxim of ‘all private property is theft’.

        What I am an advocate of is the state ownership of the major industries, the profits of which should be used for the good of the people.

        Where profits are allowed to be retained by individuals, a tax system that encourages and actions the redistribution of wealth is desirable.

        I am far left, hard left and have, for my pains been described as everything from a dinosaur to a- well, I’ll let you and your reader’s fill in the blanks, but I‘m sure you won’t think of anything I haven’t already been called!

        I think Labour’s problem is they have taken the route of least resistance because with a capitalist, right wing media at the beck and call of a ruling, wealthy elite they have not, even in the 1960s and 70s been able to spread the message widely and coherently.

  5. Mr.Angry September 23, 2014 at 6:42 am - Reply

    Thanks for this Mike I missed her speech glad you hit on the key points all of which I agree entirely with your points of view.

    The WCA should be abolished in it’s entirety it is a national scandal and clearly if your GP or Consultant says you are not fit for work, then so be it, end of story. Not challenged by some untrained overseas first aider.

    No sadly on what you have written does not inspire confidence one iota.

    Will try and watch on I player would like to hear it from the horses mouth.

    • Tony Dean September 23, 2014 at 10:03 am - Reply

      The problem is in the long term a GP, is NOT qualified to make that decision.
      (GP’s in general agree they are not qualified to make such decisions)
      The heart of the problem is the sham biopychosocial model of disability used for the WCA and it’s early iterations first started by Peter Lilley under the “advice” of Unum provident, and has been used by UK governments since. All three main political parties are now complicit in it’s use.
      Suggested reading:-
      IF you ever get the time read this as well, this reference is free, the hardback book is £75.


      There are legitimate and proven over the last 100 years psychometric real world tests, that could be used for ability to work or not, if able to work, what work, what, if any education/training would be needed to be able to do that work, and what if any work place modification would be needed to do that work.
      (Declaring an interest, I am a member of two organisations dedicated to getting disabled people into work WHERE POSSIBLE.)

      • Mike Sivier September 23, 2014 at 10:08 am - Reply

        I didn’t say a GP – I said a doctor. Mrs Mike has been seen by GPs who signed her off work. Since then she has been seen by many, many specialists, all of whom should be qualified to provide an expert opinion.
        As for the biopsychosocial model, Unum, Peter Lilley and the rest, Vox Political has published several highly-regarded articles on the subject.
        You may remember http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2013/01/16/when-big-business-dabbles-with-welfare-a-cautionary-tale/ for example.

  6. bookmanwales September 23, 2014 at 6:48 am - Reply

    Unfortunately this is what I have said all along. Given the opportunity to speak out nothing is said.
    The Labour party is sadly being run by some strange disconnected group who have no hearing or sight with no desire to change the cocoon they seem enclosed in.

    All we hear is a watered down version of Tory ideas with the promise all these hare brained schemes will continue but just be more closely monitored and targetted.

    I for one will not be relying on a Labour victory next year, I am preparing for worst case scenario which is another Tory victory and a lowering even further of our living standards.
    My investments will all be made in the supply of soup and hay to feed and bed the poor.

    Going back to the “good old days” is probably the best thing right now. Maybe a dose of what our great grandparents suffered at the hands of the Tories will make people get off their fat lazy asses and do something about the situation they find themselves in rather than turn on each other.

  7. hilary772013 September 23, 2014 at 7:41 am - Reply

    Well said Mike.. You make a lot more sense than most politicians.. If Labour offered what you propose I would not be dithering about who to vote for come 2015. I also don’t understand why Labour don’t contradict the Tories with facts & figures when they say it was Labour that caused the economic downturn, it seems to me that Labour are so frightened of the electorate thinking they are going to cause another crash which they didn’t cause in the first place, we all know where the blame lies (Banks) which is why I believe they are not coming up with the solutions like the ones you have put forward. I also think that it has been said so many times by the Tories/Media that even Labour have started to believe it (Brainwashing) why else would they not come up these kind of solutions which would lead to a landslide victory come 2015.

  8. philipburdekin September 23, 2014 at 8:42 am - Reply


  9. ispy September 23, 2014 at 8:47 am - Reply

    Hello Mike

    I read an item the other day which said:

    “Allowing individual territories within the UK to deliver their own projects as part of a wider shift of responsibility for lowering unemployment would enable a range of different support options, which could then be delivered elsewhere if they were shown to be successful”.

    You might be interested to read the full item yourself:


    Where are all the real jobs for all of the unemployed? We don’t need privately run programmes or schemes or academies or whatever – national or local!

  10. bookmanwales September 23, 2014 at 10:43 am - Reply

    Heard another Labour MP Gloria De Piero on Radio 4 this morning speaking about capping child benefit.
    Once again the argument was that it was necessary because of “austerity” measures and “deficit cutting”
    I actually, when I first put on the radio, assumed it was another Tory mouthpiece justifying cuts but was not terribly surprised, sad to say, that it was yet another Labour MP telling us how Labour have the same responsibilities as the Tories to cut the deficit by cutting welfare.
    When questioned about whether more working class people should be brought into the Labour party she was evasive as to whether it was either wanted or how it could be achieved.

    While I understand your frustration Mike at people being so negative about the Labour party when these are the constant speeches we hear it’s pretty difficult to actually believe anything will change anytime soon.

    • Mike Sivier September 23, 2014 at 10:53 am - Reply

      Well, this is the dilemma. Labour should be saying we can afford these benefits, by building the economy and by making sure everybody contributes their fair share into the tax take.
      Was it the Today programme? I’ll have to see if I can find it.

    • Mike Sivier September 23, 2014 at 10:55 am - Reply

      It’s important to add that the child benefit cap is for two years, after which the intention is to raise it in line with inflation (there may be an argument for adding on the inflation-related increases that were lost in the meantime, but that is for another day) – so it’s entirely possible that this plan is in tandem with a plan to build the economy in order to make sure the nation can pay for it.

  11. Ian Duncan September 23, 2014 at 2:44 pm - Reply

    I’m tweeting Reeves this, she needs to know how fundamentally rubbish she is and raise her game.

  12. Les September 23, 2014 at 3:33 pm - Reply

    Basic skills test? If unemployment was simply attributable to personal failings in English and mathematics or whatever, why are there so many unemployed graduates and post-grads signing on for Jobseeker’s Allowance. And for goodness sake why is Labour still pussy-footing around Universal Credit. The whole thing is purely mythical. This idea that people can gradually move from benefits into part-time work and then into proper gainful employment by allowing them to keep some of their benefits and not pay too much tax is rubbish: if you move off benefits into part-time work and do not earn at least 35 hours worth of pay at the minimum wage you will be treated EXACTLY as if you are fully unemployed and whatever benefits you are claiming will be hanging by a thread EVEN THOUGH YOU ARE WORKING PART TIME based on you proving every month that you have been continually looking for more hours or a better paid job just like the unemployed have to do now. Fail to do this and you will be sanctioned. Worse, in the IDS version of Universal Credit the Housing Benefit element will be included, so if you make a slip-up and merit the wrath of a Jobcentre Clerk you could lose everything for two week to three years and end up losing your home, in the gutter, destitute.

    Universal Credit will be a thousand times worse than the current system for the poor.

    Labour should pledge itself to scrap UC and devise something better and more humane.

    • Mike Sivier September 23, 2014 at 11:20 pm - Reply

      With you on that one, Les.

  13. Niki September 23, 2014 at 4:09 pm - Reply

    Good post Mike! I could get on board with a Labour Party who wanted this kind of stuff.

  14. johndee September 24, 2014 at 12:45 am - Reply

    I’m sure that if we simply collected the all the billions in tax that is dodged by the super-rich elite and transnational companies, we could afford to take care of the unemployed and vulnerable properly without breaking the bank.

    Why, if you fiddle millions away offshore you’re encouraged to get on with it, but if you have your boyfriend staying overnight, you’re liable to get banged up by the DWP for fraud?

    Also, as you point out, that if we had more employee-owned companies then surely this would increase productivity, spread the wealth, increase consumer spending and restore people’s self-esteem.

    And what was wrong with the old rates – property tax? If you’re rich enough to decide to buy a mansion then surely you’re rich enough to contribute a little more to roads, schools, hospitals and other local public services?

    Why can’t labour see these ‘no-brainers’? Are they too inarticulate to call the tories out on this, or what?

  15. Steve Kind September 24, 2014 at 10:04 am - Reply

    I have the misfortune to have Rachel Reeves as my MP and she has driven the final nail into the coffin of my 40 years as a Labour voter. Parachuted into the constituency, displacing a solid local working class prospective candidate, she has dedicated herself to keeping Blairism alive in the party (except where it interferes with her own career plans). The final straw came when I wrote to her asking for an assurance that she would oppose the adoption onto Labour policy the idea of establishing Military Academies in “deprived areas” as an alternative to regular schools, staffed by ex-military personal fast-tracked to Qualified Teacher Status. She wrote back telling me what a good idea it was. Make no mistake – she is not “weak” – she is malign.

    • Mike Sivier September 24, 2014 at 11:29 am - Reply

      Why did you local Constituency Labour Party select her, then? Are you a member of the party? Did you speak against her, or call on others to do so – if not at the last election, then in advance of the next?
      It seems odd that you wish to remove your long-term support for Labour, if you could have influenced the decisions that put her where she is, but didn’t.

      • Steve Kind September 24, 2014 at 11:38 am - Reply

        To be fair, Mike, if there were any chance at all of her not getting elected I would have qualms given the urgency of not having another Tory government. But there isn’t. No, I’m not a Labour Party member and I shall vote Green in the hope that it will hasten the day when Labour can see the sense of a Green / Socialist alliance.

  16. Steve Kind September 30, 2014 at 10:50 am - Reply

    Hmm – Mike – did I leave a reply to this that you didn’t approve – or was I just incompetent and forgot to hit the “post” button? (possible!) – or maybe it was just gremlins.

    • Mike Sivier September 30, 2014 at 12:54 pm - Reply

      It’s probably sitting in the spam file again. WordPress seems to be having one of its periods of being unable to tell the difference between spam and genuine comments. I’ll have a look.

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