By John Percival

This week, Labour MPs walked through the voting lobby and into George Osborne’s trap to shrink the welfare state. The welfare cap, which Ed Balls pledged the party to support, was one based on Tory spending plans, which have helped create the cost of living crisis faced by so many families. More fundamentally, the welfare cap transforms the welfare state over the next five years from one based on need to one based on what a Tory Chancellor committed to permanent austerity says we can afford.

The benefits covered by the welfare cap include Employment and Support Allowance, Disability Living Allowance and Carers’ Allowance amongst others. The benefits paid to some of the most severely disabled and vulnerable people in our society. The only way we can now improve the support provided to any of these groups as a result of this cap is by slashing support provided elsewhere. Some may claim that a future Labour Government would be able to increase or remove the cap by forcing a vote on the issue in Parliament but that would require it showing significantly more political back-bone on social security than it has thus far shown in opposition.

In recent months, Labour has challenged the Tory assault on the welfare state fighting the bedroom tax and ATOS’s handling of the Work Capability Assessment with much success. The decision to support the welfare cap undoes all this good work. Tory cuts such as the closure of the Independent Living Fund, the 1% benefits up-rating cap and the switch from RPI to CPI are now less likely to be reversed by a future Labour Government. Further fuel has also been given to the right-wing narrative that social security benefits are currently too generous.

None of this is to say that Labour should not look to reduce the social security budget in certain areas. In her speech in the House of Commons, Diane Abbott offered an alternative approach based on higher employment, affordable housing and the living wage. While these are all measures supported by the Labour leadership to varying degrees, such an approach will require investment. Sticking to Tory spending plans will fail to deliver the jobs and homes required. The benefits cap now means the most vulnerable will pay the price.


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