New Labour Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell is redoubling his efforts to be crowned most vicious bastard in Parliament by unveiling new plans to force single parents into work once their child reaches the age of one.
In the context of other New Labour welfare policies, the move reaffirms the government’s utter contempt for some of the most vulnerable and exploited people in British society. Last year, the government “reformed” incapacity benefit along similar lines to tie it much more closely to claimants’ ability (or “readiness”) to work.
A government report from economist Professor Paul Gregg calls for a comprehensive extension of “conditionality” in the benefits system — that is, making people’s ability to claim benefits conditional on them proving their potential usefulness, to the capitalist labour market. A government source, gleefully reported in the Daily Mail, promised that “there would be sanctions applied to those who refused to take up the support offered.”
The message is clear; agree to be herded into work, or get kicked off benefits.
The proposals are particularly obscene in the context of job losses and sharply increasing unemployment. The jobs that are available in today’s climate are invariably low-paid, highly exploited and incredibly precarious. The government doesn’t care what kind of work single parents and disabled people are forced into, as long as capital can get its hands on their labour power.
Capitalism is based on the subordination of human society to the needs of profit. The logic of a welfare system, even within a capitalist state, cuts against that and points to a different set of interests — those of human need — above the interests of capital. The idea that human beings deserve to live decent lives regardless of their usefulness as determined and assessed by bosses and the state is hardly even a radical one.
New Labour’s war on even the most mildly social-democratic of principles, and its belligerent assertion that the needs and interests of capital must reign supreme everywhere, have now gone beyond even Thatcher. Her government failed to push through as many privatisation projects as New Labour.
Again grotesque, anti-human capitalism, revolutionaries must counterpose a vision of a society managed from below by the working-class majority and run in our interests. Although workers hold the ultimate power to remake society along democratic, collective lines, the fight to win that society must necessarily mobilise those members of our class – such as incapacity benefit claimants and single parents — who face struggles outside of the workplace. Asserting the principles of human need against government welfare policy must form a key part of the fightback now needed.