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Daily Politics – Universal Credit and Political Disenfranchisement

October 28, 2013

On Monday, Mark was invited to join the MPs’ panel on BBC 2’s Daily Politics. Up for discussion were the universal credit, Russell Brand’s Newsnight interview on political disenfranchisement and viral campaigning. The appearance can be viewed using the link but we also paste below a summary of Mark’s views on these topics.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-24709582

Universal Credit

Background

Today, the universal credit has been launched in Hammersmith & Fulham (the first time it’s been tried in London). People will now see six existing benefits rolled into one payment.

Changes to disability assessment have been delayed because the government has been unable to assess claimants in time. Personal Independence Payments will replace Disability Living Allowance next week only for claimants in certain areas rather than across Britain. Ministers said assessments were taking longer than expected and the scheme would now be phased in more gradually.

Over the next few years the government is moving around 3.3 million Disability Living Allowance (DLA) claimants, aged 16-64, to the new benefit – the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). Under the PIP system, which introduces regular written and face-to-face medical assessments, claimants will receive a daily living component of either £53 or £79.15 and a mobility component of either £21 or £55.25. The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) says the new system will be simpler and fairer and is essential to control costs to the taxpayer, which have risen to £13bn a year since DLA was introduced in 1992.

By 2018, 450,000 people will be ineligible for PIPs, while 780,000 will receive the same as or more than they previously did, according to the DWP.

The vast majority of disabled claimants will continue to claim DLA until 2015, after which point they will be sent information about reapplying for PIP.

But since June this year, all new disabled claimants have had to apply for PIP, and all current claimants whose circumstances have changed had been due to start moving to the new benefit on Monday.

–          Let’s be clear at the outset. The old system was not working. It entrenched massive disincentives to work, condemning people to lives on the dole. It was a source of constant complaint due to its huge complexity, cost and injustices towards people in work.

–          The government has been tremendously ambitious in gripping those problems. We’ve already launched the Benefit Cap, Universal Credit and the new Personal Independence Payment, and the Work Programme has got over 320,000 of the hardest to help into jobs. Iain Duncan Smith has been passionate in getting the extra money from the Treasury to achieve these things.

–          There were bound to be teething problems in rolling out such an ambitious programme which is why it has been rolled out gradually. We are talking about huge numbers of people who are on these benefits and the government is wise to take things slowly. The challenge, as ever, is to create a computer system able to cope with the scale of such a scheme.

–          As Lord Freud said, this is a massive cultural transformation. When it is up and running, it will make it easier for people to move in and out of work. It will stop people being trapped on benefits, unable to risk taking a job. It will hopefully cut welfare costs over the long run and, importantly, reduce the scope for fraud, errors and discrepancies.

–          The divisive language that has sometimes been used by government, however, has not been helpful. We need everybody behind this because the welfare state has needed reform for a long time and these reforms are simply too important to distil into a skivers v strivers battle.

Disenfranchisement

–          Amidst Russell Brand’s flamboyant, revolutionary language, he touched a nerve amongst many of us. Wealth inequality is a huge challenge to the entire political class. I see it here very visibly in my constituency. Central London has always had that degree of wealth inequality, with the homeless coexisting with the rich. But we are now seeing something on a completely different scale with the emergence of the global superrich.

–          I have written about this extensively, particularly on the issue of housing. Putting aside all the good arguments against the Occupy encampment outside St Paul’s in my constituency back in 2011, I did not dismiss their message. They were onto something, just like Brand. It is not just the usual suspects on the anarchistic left of politics, but increasingly a lot of middle class, Tory-voting people who feel that the rules of capitalism have become skewed against them.

–          Both Brand and Occupy tap into a deep sense of unease, impotence and frustration amongst people who, despite having got themselves educated and then worked and saved hard, now view themselves as the losers of the globalised, capitalist system. The best example of that for many people is the London housing market.

–          The danger with Brand’s rant is that he is suggesting there are quick-fix solutions to the problems that have got us to this point. There aren’t, it will take a lot of work from a lot of people over many years to address the kinds of concerns he highlights. His call for young people not to vote is incredibly dangerous and irresponsible. One of the reasons the voice of young people are not given more weight is because older people are four times likelier to vote which is why, for example, politicians are far more frightened of cutting pensioner benefits than they are of hiking tuition fees.

Viral Campaigning

–         Viral campaigning is a tricky area for politicians. A thread of anti-establishment sentiment runs through the internet and there can often be a negative reaction if people try to harness things like Facebook and Twitter for political messaging.

–          Things normally only go viral when they are genuinely unique, funny and clever. A lot of the things we have seen from politicians always just slightly miss the mark or backfire, spawning funnier versions that ridicule the original.

–          The Obama online campaign was an enormous success but we have never been able to replicate that here in the UK. That’s not to say we can’t but we need to be wittier and nimbler about it, and read the mood right.