The British government needs to provide more generous welfare payments to the poor, unemployed and disabled. Tory cuts to benefits have driven millions into poverty and brought back conditions that were thought extinct, such as scurvy. A narrative of scroungers, pushed by right wing politics and newspapers, has led to the demonisation of the poor and the needy. This must be stopped and the way to do it is for benefits to be more generous.
What the Tories have done is incredibly cruel. People who are in work are unable to feed themselves. Food bank usage has exploded and even nurses are using their services. Homelessness has gone up. In every city and town across the country it can be clearly seen how many people are sleeping rough. Universal Credit is a disaster. Not even the Tories think it's a good idea any more, but they stick with it because they don't know what else to do.
A new UN report has damned the government and its welfare policy. The left has been using this as a stick to beat the Tories with, and it's heartening to see so many people standing up for the poor and needy against a government that is actively impoverishing them. It must be made clear to the Tories how sickening their treatment of the vulnerable has been.
At the same time, those of us on the left need to acknowledge that Labour and Corbyn have been too timid on this issue. So far they have confirmed that they will review Universal Credit and have not committed to increasing the amount that goes to needy people. There has been some talk of exploring Universal Basic Income (UBI) but this is a long term plan. Those suffering from homelessness and hunger need help faster than the timeframe that UBI can be brought in. They need more money through existing benefits.
Labour need to be bolder on this issue. They need to make a public statement that a vote for Corbyn is a vote for more benefits for the poor and disabled. Simple as. Labour also need to commit to doing what it takes to fix Universal Credit or to scrap it. A Labour government should mean that people won't have to sleep in shop doorways or rely on foodbanks. Currently, I can’t see the policy proposal from Labour that will achieve this.
I know that this will not be popular with middle England Daily Mail readers. I know that Labour doesn't want to be labelled as on the side of people who don't want to work. Labour can’t allow this to prevent them from helping the people who desperately need help and it need it quickly. The majority of people receiving benefits are in work, but still can't afford to pay rent and provide food for their family. This isn't giving a free handout to the workshy, this is making sure that if you work you can afford home and food.
If the Tories and the right wing press want to spin a narrative that helping the starving or the homeless is wrong then we need to tell them that in twenty century Britain we don't want to see people sleeping under bridges, or suffering from Victorian conditions, or children living in poverty. We need to tell the Tories and the right wing press that the people of Britain want the poor and the disabled to be helped. This message needs to be loud and clear.
Corbyn has been a radical leader of the Labour Party in many ways, but he has not been radical enough on welfare. Corbyn has also been a break from the centrist orthodoxy of the past and we need him to be a break from centrist orthodoxy on this crucial issue. This UN report is the perfect opportunity for Labour to get behind people's anger with the Tory government's cruelty, cease the narrative and take it in the direction of a radical program of help for those who need it the most.
The Labour Party needs to be pledge that when it power it will raise benefits so that people can afford a home and to eat. Once the suffering caused by the Tories has ended, then we can look at long term radical change such as UBI. I support UBI and think it would be a good policy, but it’s a long term solution and people need short term help. When you're homeless or starving you’re focused on the short term and long term solutions won't make a difference.
I want the next Labour government to be radical in all ways, not just those that test well with focus groups or swing voters. I want socialism to be more than more money for public sector workers and nationalising the railways (although those are good things). I want it to be a helping hand to those who need it to the most. We need a radical Labour government to make everyone's lives better. Especially the poorest.