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Do Labour MPs even get what austerity means for the poor?

Bernadette Horton says we on the left don’t want welfare – we want a social security system that helps those in need to get back into well paid, full-time work

Are Labour MPs listening to the people on the austerity front line?

I would never be so naive as to think that the majority of Tory MPs would even begin to understand what life is like on the front line of austerity.

But perhaps I estimated some Labour MPs too highly.

After all, the very job that an MP does gives them a salary of over £60,000 a year, which to most people would mean a comfortable lifestyle. To people receiving social security an MP is significantly well off.

I have nothing but admiration and respect when I see Labour MPs like Grahame Morris, Ian Mearns and Ian Lavery meeting constituents week in, week out to discuss their problems, engage with Labour voters on Twitter and never ever take for granted their representation of all people in their constituencies.

But for other MPs perhaps a time out of the Westminster bubble would open their eyes to what austerity actually is.

I reprimanded Tom Harris MP on Twitter when he said in an article on Labour List: “Many on the left of our party want a different approach to the work and pensions brief.

“They want someone who will hint at increasing, not decreasing the welfare bill, who will defend the right of claimants to turn down paid employment without any hint of sanctions and who will unequivocally oppose every one of [Iain Duncan Smith’s] reforms.”

I cannot speak for MPs or “the party” but I speak for many left-leaning voters who categorically do not want a new shadow minister doing any of the above at all.

I told Harris that this is not the case among left-leaning voters. We want practical help from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for all unemployed people to actually find a full-time job that pays a living wage so people can support their families and have job security, pay down a mortgage or rent or buy a piece of furniture without relying on credit.

In turn we would also like new affordable social housing built — not on huge estates that can become ghettoes of the future but perhaps a combination of social and private housing with a mixture of tenants both in work and out of work, both able-bodied and disabled, both young and old.

I would also point out that the ordinary Labour voter would not want a DWP Secretary of State to have lists of sanctions at the ready for tiny misdemeanours such as being five minutes late for an appointment at the job centre.

Take my own son’s experience. He was seasonally unemployed last winter. I’ll let you decide whether as a young single man, living at home, he should have been sanctioned for turning down the following “job.”

He was offered a caravan-cleaning job 20 miles away for six hours per week on a Saturday.

His train fare to the job — the train was the only means of getting there on the north Wales coast — was £12 return.

I told him to turn down this “job” as it was not a job at all in my book.
Jobseekers like my son are not being given the option of full-time or even good part-time jobs in most cases.

In my son’s case, six hours per week is not even part-time.

Thankfully with no help from the job centre he later found a full-time job, albeit from an agency on a zero-hours contract. But options are few on the ground currently.

As to “opposing every one of IDS’s reforms,” many on the left vehemently loathe the man and his rhetoric. But is it right to assume we ordinary people want a DWP shadow secretary who would oppose reform of our social security system?

No. There are many like myself who understand that the myriad of benefits under the social security system need a complete overhaul. Take universal credit for example.

If it incorporated fair ways of payment to recipients, included even more benefits like the carers’ allowance and council tax benefit, had an IT system that was fit for purpose and operated by giving dignity and respect to those who need to make claims, then I wouldn’t have a problem with it.

Universal credit, if operated correctly, would be a relief to people who have to fill in reams of individual forms to claim housing benefit, tax credits, jobseeker’s allowance and so on.

To have one form would be ideal and welcome to most ordinary people.

So I would say to Harris or other Labour MPs who think voters on the left want increased social security bills and rights to turn down work — we don’t at all.

We just require a shadow DWP secretary who will defend the right to a proper contract of work between employer and employee that does not allow for zero-hours unless asked for, a job where the hours provide a decent living wage.

One who will defend social housing, consign the bedroom tax to the waste bin and fight for a social security system that is easy to access in times of need and provides practical caring help to all claimants.

Now that doesn’t sound too much to ask, either from shadow DWP secretary Liam Byrne or whoever his successor may be.

Bernadette Horton blogs as www.mumvausterity.blogspot.co.uk.

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