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The welfare cap is government policy at its worst - but Labour won't challenge it

In a crowded field, the welfare cap is the coalition's worst policy. It's a failure of courage not to oppose it, says Caroline Lucas.

I cannot be the only MP whose email inbox is full to bursting with heartbreaking testimony to the hugely damaging impact of this Government’s savage welfare cuts.

And whilst the Chancellor continues to wage war against the young, the disabled, the poor –all dressed up in the name of reducing government debt - he gambles recklessly with our economy. Austerity, says the IMF, is wholly unnecessary. A growing number of economists also warn it’s paving the way for another crash. The Chancellor is shifting government debt onto households at a time when when unsecured lending - via credit and store cards, car financing and pay day lending – is at an all-time high. By 2020 levels of household debt in relation to income levels look set to exceed the previous pre-financial crash peak.

His approach is cruel, economically illiterate and, in the case of the welfare cap at least, legally questionable. A recent judgement casts doubt on the legitimacy of benefit capping, citing both the impact upon women – especially vulnerable single parents – and children, and the requirement on local authorities to house families should they become homeless. Restricting benefits to £20,000 without help to prevent local families becoming destitute, for example, and guaranteeing local authorities can meet additional Discretionary Housing Payments, might well prove to be unlawful.

The welfare cap appeals to the very worst in human nature. It’s part of a narrative that chooses to ignore the underlying causes of poverty or inequality, justifies punishing anyone out of work, and breeds resentment towards anyone who falls on hard times. Sadly, it’s a narrative that the shadow frontbench will not risk challenging – and many are even willing to go along with it.

We live in a country where wealth inequality is rising. Where people are dying because of having their disability benefits stopped. A society in which young people at risk could end up on the streets thanks to a twisted ideology that blames housing benefit for market rents being sky high, rather than 30 years of utter failure on housing policy.  A society in which welfare has become a dirty word and the social security safety net is in tatters.

My constituents deserve something better.

That means taking a stand against the bedroom tax, against scrapping the Independent Living Fund, and against refusing to allow asylum seekers to work. But it also means being bold enough to look for radical new ways of providing for each other: a new economic and social settlement that delivers security over fear, and more equitable outcomes to start with.

A settlement that recognises social security should be a contract between citizens, who then employ the state as an accountable mechanism to realise shared goals. After all, any government is our servant, tasked with distributing money that’s ours, not theirs. That gives any government a responsibility to properly reflect the collective contract that binds us together as members of society – by appealing to the very best of human nature, rather than the worst.

No matter what George Osborne and David Cameron try to tell you, social security isn’t handouts for scroungers. It’s a warm home and decent pay that covers the cost of living, rather than a choice between eating or heating.  It’s affordable rent levels, rather than going to bed each night with the fear of eviction hanging over you. Everyone paying fairly into our joint insurance scheme, and having the right to  draw on it without being demonised. True social security is valuing unpaid as well as paid work; prevention rather than crisis management; action to tackle both supply and demand in the labour market; and the benefits of realising every individual’s potential rather than benefits as a stick with which to beat people.

Social security as trust is at the very opposite end of the spectrum from the overarching message in today’s Budget. But giving people an equal share in what society has to offer, alongside responsibility – for themselves and for one another – is the real meaning of being in it together. It’s also how to put social justice, environmental sustainability and a more equal distribution of power centre stage.

 

 

 

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.

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In the race to be France's next president, keep an eye on Arnaud Montebourg

Today's Morning Call. 

Good morning. As far as the Brexit talks are concerned, the least important voters are here in Britain. Whether UK plc gets a decent Brexit deal depends a lot more on who occupies the big jobs across Europe, and how stable they feel in doing so.

The far-right Freedom Party in Austria may have been repudiated at the presidential level but they still retain an interest in the legislative elections (due to be held by 2018). Both Lega Nord and Five Star in Italy will hope to emerge as the governing party at the next Italian election.

Some Conservative MPs are hoping for a clean sweep for the Eurosceptic right, the better to bring the whole EU down, while others believe that the more vulnerable the EU is, the better a deal Britain will get. The reality is that a European Union fearing it is in an advanced state of decay will be less inclined, not more, to give Britain a good deal. The stronger the EU is, the better for Brexit Britain, because the less attractive the exit door looks, the less of an incentive to make an example of the UK among the EU27.

That’s one of the many forces at work in next year’s French presidential election, which yesterday saw the entry of Manuel Valls, the French Prime Minister, into the race to be the Socialist Party’s candidate.

Though his star has fallen somewhat among the general public from the days when his opposition to halal supermarkets as mayor of Evry, and his anti-Roma statements as interior minister made him one of the most popular politicians in France, a Valls candidacy, while unlikely to translate to a finish in the top two for the Socialists could peel votes away from Marine Le Pen, potentially allowing Emanuel Macron to sneak into second place.

But it’s an open question whether he will get that far. The name to remember is Arnaud Montebourg, the former minister who quit Francois Hollande’s government over its right turn in 2014. Although as  Anne-Sylvaine Chassany reports, analysts believe the Socialist party rank-and-file has moved right since Valls finished fifth out of sixth in the last primary, Montebourg’s appeal to the party’s left flank gives him a strong chance.

Does that mean it’s time to pop the champagne on the French right? Monteburg may be able to take some votes from the leftist independent, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and might do some indirect damage to the French Thatcherite Francois Fillon. His supporters will hope that his leftist economics will peel away supporters of Le Pen, too.

One thing is certain, however: while the chances of a final run-off between Le Pen and Fillon are still high,  Hollande’s resignation means that it is no longer certain that the centre and the left will not make it to that final round.

THE SOUND OF SILENCE

The government began its case at the Supreme Court yesterday, telling justices that the creation of the European Communities Act, which incorporates the European treaties into British law automatically, was designed not to create rights but to expedite the implementation of treaties, created through prerogative power. The government is arguing that Parliament, through silence, has accepted that all areas not defined as within its scope as prerogative powers. David Allen Green gives his verdict over at the FT.

MO’MENTUM, MO’PROBLEMS

The continuing acrimony in Momentum has once again burst out into the open after a fractious meeting to set the organisation’s rules and procedures, Jim Waterson reports over at BuzzFeed.  Jon Lansman, the organisation’s founder, still owns the data and has the ability to shut down the entire group, should he chose to do so, something he is being urged to do by allies. I explain the origins of the crisis here.

STOP ME IF YOU’VE HEARD THIS ONE  BEFORE

Italy’s oldest bank, Monte Paschi, may need a state bailout after its recapitalisation plan was thrown into doubt following Matteo Renzi’s resignation. Italy’s nervous bankers will wait to see if  €1bn of funds from a Qatari investment grouping will be forthcoming now that Renzi has left the scene.

BOOM BOOM

Strong growth in the services sector puts Britain on course to be the highest growing economy in the G7. But Mark Carney has warned that the “lost decade” of wage growth and the unease from the losers from globalisation must be tackled to head off the growing tide of “isolation and detachment”.

THE REPLACEMENTS

David Lidington will stand in for Theresa May, who is abroad, this week at Prime Ministers’ Questions. Emily Thornberry will stand in for Jeremy Corbyn.

QUIT PICKING ON ME!

Boris Johnson has asked Theresa May to get her speechwriters and other ministers to stop making jokes at his expense, Sam Coates reports in the Times. The gags are hurting Britain’s diplomatic standing, the Foreign Secretary argues.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

It’s beginning to feel a bit like Christmas! And to help you on your way, here’s Anna’s top 10 recommendations for Christmassy soundtracks.

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Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.