Monday, September 10, 2007

Lone parents and the green paper on welfare reform

Article for next month's Labour Left Briefing
Peter Hain recently insisted that getting lone parents back into work, was, apparently a respectable socialist cause.
According to Hain, full employment and conquering child poverty, in his opinion are socialist statements and “nobody can argue with them”.
But Peter, penalising and coercing people back into work with threat of benefit loss is something socialists would reject.

The proposals outlined in the green paper on welfare reform have a dishonest ideological basis with the emphasis on “culture of dependency”. With various legislative attacks on the poor in this society (Welfare Reform Act and Freud Review) this green paper and its contents comes at no surprise.

What comes across is that worklessness in marginalised groups such as single parents is seen by the government as the result of individual failure. If it is anything collective at all, in the government’s view, it is about culture of dependency and low expectation.

A real progressive socialist government, contrary to Hain’s recent pronouncements, would envision a more inclusive society that has affordable housing and good quality childcare as opposed to the free market view of work as simply being as much productivity as possible for as little wage as possible.

The aspiration behind the green paper is full employment for disadvantaged groups. A noble goal but to be pursued by ignoble means: More mandatory requirements on Jobseekers and tighter job search conditions before benefit is paid.

Nowhere in the green paper is there any mention of universal childcare be provided; a traditional socialist demand that would immediately free up single parents to study and work.
John Hutton earlier this year sited Sweden, which has around 80% of lone parents back at work as opposed to over 56% in the UK. Hutton failed to mention that money has been invested in the childcare system in Sweden.
Many European countries spend 3 or 4 times more than the UK on child care provision. In Sweden the early system is an almost universal public service and in Finland every child has the right to childcare from birth. While in the UK childcare is fragmented and beset with uncoordinated initiatives.
As Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) recently argued, lone parents need good supportive and flexible working conditions (certainly the pay gap is amplified for women workers who return to the workplace).
For example nowhere is there a proposal to help fund study so lone parents can increase their chances of getting better paid work. Instead the list of companies the green paper boasts as “partners” suggests careers of badly paid drudgery in the retail, hospitality and care home trades…the jobs nobody else wants. Many of these jobs would vanish over night in a recession. It would people from disadvantaged groups that would be laid off first if the firms are hit by the fallout from the credit crunch or a similar crisis courtesy of the merchant banks.
A recent book (Collapsing Careers by Joanna Grigg) reveals that every year 30,000 women in Britain are sacked, made redundant or leave their job because of pregnancy discrimination.

And further stigmatising of lone parents is David Cameron’s support for tax breaks for married couples as Britain must “lose its anti-marriage bias" if the UK's "broken society is to be fixed”. Cameron has back peddled over this as last year he said the, “Tory war on single parents was over”. He is surging towards to the right and championing the ideology, once again, of the heterosexual nuclear family (married of course). The same old Tories!
The culture of dependency is an invention of right-wing ideologies and those who go along with this thesis demonises the powerless. Socialists have to challenge this ideology.

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