Ed Miliband’s social security speech
Today’s speech by Ed Miliband on social security reform was positive. First of all, there was the reference to child poverty. I was in the audience, and my key question for this speech was whether he was going to drop Labour’s historic commitment to ending child poverty as some have demanded.
He began by accepting the fact that this goal has become much more difficult and the target of ending child poverty may have to be put back from the original deadline of 2020. Denying this would rightly have been criticised, after all, the current government’s policies will increase the number of children in poverty by 400,000 by 2015/16. But he didn’t use this as an excuse to walk away from the commitment:
But I still think we can make progress if everyone pulls their weight.
And there was a real commitment to tackling working poverty. Part of his strategy for bringing down the costs of social security to raise the incomes of low paid workers. He talked of “an economy that works for working people” – a phrase I think we’ll hear more of over the next two years. That’s why the union response has been so positive, with Len McCluskey highlighting the commitment “to action on demeaning, insecure work and a drive to embed the living wage” and Paul Kenny picking up on “stopping abuse of zero hours contacts, preventing exploitation of temporary workers and outlawing recruitment only from abroad.”
And there was the commitment to a Job Guarantee for young people unemployed over a year and over-25s unemployed over two years. This is a real job, built on the lessons learned from the Future Jobs Fund. This is a long-standing TUC priority and it was great to see the re-affirmation of Labour’s plans to introduce and extend this embodiment of reciprocity.
And, talking of reciprocity and TUC priorities, there was the emphasis on revitalising the contributory principle. There were times in the last twenty years when it felt as if the trade union movement was the only institution that still felt that National Insurance was part of the solution, not part of the problem. I know from talking to Labour politicians that Kate Bell and Declan Gaffney’s report on Making a Contribution, published as part of our series of Touchstone pamphlets, has helped in the development of Labour thinking on social security reform. Of course, there’s still a great deal of work to be done to take this from being a bright idea to a detailed plan for renewal, but the promise to look for ways to show that society values workers’ contribution is real.
And finally there was the language of the speech – this was a “One Nation Plan for Social Security Reform” and it was nice to hear the term “social security” being rehabilitated by a leading politician. Ever since we imported the American habit of calling the benefit system “welfare” we seem to have moved closer and closer to American attitudes too. Mr Miliband made quite a few references to the “welfare state” or the “welfare system”, but the Labour leadership seems to have returned to talking about social security and benefits – I hope they keep it up!