It’s time for Labour to talk tough about the benefit-deniers

Rachel Reeves: The coalition has distorted the benefit debate so much that 64 per cent of Labour voters think benefits should be cut - and she doesn't have the backbone to correct them.

Rachel Reeves: The coalition has distorted the benefit debate so much that 64 per cent of Labour voters think benefits should be cut – and she doesn’t have the backbone to correct them.

Here’s a question that gets asked very often in any debate on state benefits: “Isn’t it right that the taxpayer should only support people who really need it?”

The implication is that the government of the day is right to restrict benefit provision.

The answer, of course, is to point at some of the cases we have known, in which benefits have been taken away from people; cases like that of David Clapson, an ex-soldier who was sanctioned off of Jobseekers’ Allowance and died of diabetic ketoacidosis three weeks into the sanction period. When his body was found by a friend, his electricity card was out of credit, meaning the fridge where he kept the insulin he used to treat his diabetes was not working. A coroner found that when David died there was no food in his stomach. Was the government right to restrict his benefits? Or was this state-sponsored murder?

How about severely bipolar Sheila Holt, who recently died after spending months in a coma caused by a heart attack she suffered after being pushed onto the government’s slave-labour Work Programme? Even while she was comatose, the work programme provider – Seetec – was sending her letters about her suitability for employment. There is no doubt that the stress of being forced onto the Work Programme led to her death – in fact the government has apologised for its actions. It therefore seems redundant to ask the question, “Was the government right to restrict her benefits?” as we already know the answer.

How about Karen Sherlock, who was suffering from kidney failure when her Employment and Support Allowance was cut off by Iain Duncan Smith’s minions. She died, apparently of a heart attack, after an operation was cancelled. Was the government right to restrict her benefits?

How about Stephanie Bottrill, who took her own life by walking in front of a lorry on the M6, just one month after the Bedroom Tax had been introduced by Iain Duncan Smith. Her rent at the time was £320 per month, some of which was subsidised by Housing Benefit – but the imposition of an extra £80 charge, to come from her own money, was too much for her finances to take. She left a note to relatives in which she made clear that she had taken her own life – and that she blamed the government. Was the government right to restrict her benefits?

According to the last figures available to us (from 2011 – and related to ESA alone), four more people die as a result of the government’s benefit regime every three hours – more than 200 every week. These figures are, however, more than three years old; they do not encompass the rise in suicides that takes place in the run-up to Christmas every year and they pre-date the effects of Iain Duncan Smith’s homicidal Welfare Reform Act 2012.

Meanwhile, as Polly Toynbee has pointed out in her latest Guardian article, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary puts her foot in her mouth every time she talks about benefits. “She has the hardest shadow post, reconciling the party’s mission to stand with the underdog while facing a public fed by a stream of statistics-free anecdotes about welfare cheats,” writes Ms Toynbee.

That’s as may be, but she should be challenging those preconceptions, not conforming to them. “When last in power Labour failed to shift the enemy’s terms of engagement, hiding its own good actions behind tough talk,” writes Ms Toynbee.

“This mirrors too much Labour policy, foggy messages hiding agonised ambivalence – and voters smell out that inauthentic verbal triangulation.”

How true those words are. This writer was recently attacked by the shadow Welsh secretary, Owen Smith, for pointing out that he had confirmed, in his own words, that Labour would not speak out against the work capability assessment (that is responsible for three of the four deaths mentioned above) for fear of the right-wing press. This effectively means that his party is asking the sick and disabled to die for Labour’s election hopes.

Mr Smith threatened me with legal action after this blog put his words into plain English. He has since gone quiet, which is just as well. Not only has there been a national debate on the subject (of which Ms Toynbee’s article is just the latest part) but at least one reader has been able to confirm that my words were accurate, after a doorstep conversation with his own Labour candidate. Other readers are encouraged to do the same.

“On benefits, most voters are conflicted,” Ms Toynbee continues. “No one, least of all those working hard for very little, wants people cheating.” That is true. But then, 99.3 per cent of benefit claimants aren’t cheating at all. This government just treats them as if they are.

“Labour can’t win this internalised tussle by replicating it, but could earn credit by encouraging the nation’s better instincts,” writes Ms Toynbee.

The shame is that all the words coming from Labour suggest it will do the former, rather than the latter.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

Join the Vox Political Facebook page.

If you have enjoyed this article, don’t forget to share it using the buttons at the bottom of this page. Politics is about everybody – so let’s try to get everybody involved!

Vox Political needs your help!
If you want to support this site
but don’t want to give your money to advertisers)
you can make a one-off donation here:

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Buy Vox Political books so we can continue
trying to get our politicians to do the right thing
– even when they don’t have the backbone for it.

Health Warning: Government! is now available
in either print or eBook format here:

HWG PrintHWG eBook

The first collection, Strong Words and Hard Times,
is still available in either print or eBook format here:



  1. Steve March 26, 2015 at 12:14 pm - Reply

    Regretfully,there is no difference between the vile Tories and the gutless Labour Party and they wonder why people don’t want to vote?..Where are the champions of those who are unemployed for whatever reason,for those who are sick and disabled and those trapped on benefits where they are preyed upon vicious DWP staff who look at each claimant as a bonus….The simple answer is there are no champions in political circles,we have as a nation been turned into a divided community where the death or impoverishment of its citizens barely raise an eyelid in this Im Alright Jack society…….If we get more of the same a more direct approach to exclusion will come and regretfully all the violence that follows and that will start civil unrest….perhaps this is what was meant to happen?

    • Mike Sivier March 26, 2015 at 2:47 pm - Reply

      What a load of nonsense. The gap between Labour and the Tories is now wider than it has been in more than a generation.
      I don’t like what Labour is saying on benefits because it has policies that could do so much more for people than the party is saying.
      Your problem is that you are confusing the lack of information coming out of Rachel Reeves with a lack of proposed change.
      It is Reeves’s fault, but I can’t let it pass.

  2. Wayne Leon March 26, 2015 at 12:31 pm - Reply

    Because of Rachel Reeves, Labour have now lost my vote. There are many more like myself too, who have been swayed away from voting Labour because of her now and what she said.

  3. casalealex March 26, 2015 at 3:26 pm - Reply


    “Is it a problem if Labour is seen as the party of the welfare state?”

    “Yes of course, but we’re not. We don’t want to be seen, and we’re not, the party to represent those who are of of work. Labour are a party of working people, formed for and by working people – the clue is in the name. We are the Labour party – we are not the party of people on benefits. But the welfare state was always supposed to be there to protect people in times of need, whether that was because they lost their job, or they became disabled, to help with the cost of childcare, to help you when you are no longer earning because you are retired. That’s what the welfare state was created for. I want to ensure that the welfare state is there for my children and their children in the future.”

    ‘Labour has not committed to match the £12bn of further cuts to the welfare bill promised by George Osborne. Reeves said Labour aimed to cut welfare spending by increasing the minimum wage to £8 an hour, and increasing youth employment. “

    “The big savings to be had are by tackling the root causes of the benefits bill,” she said. “If every young person who can work is working and if people are paid a wage that they can afford to live on, so they don’t have to draw down on housing benefit and tax credit, then that’s going to save a lot more money than all the talk in the world about shirkers and scroungers.”’
    Rachel Reeves MP

  4. gavinpollock March 26, 2015 at 3:59 pm - Reply

    I was totally underwhelmed by her recent pledge to “reduce” the number of families dependent on food banks. A Left wing party should be committed to making sure nobody is dependent on food banks, not just reducing the number!

    She’s a massive liability to Labour. She comes across exactly the same as McVey or IDS.

Leave A Comment