After criticism of a policy vacuum, there’s been no shortage of announcements from Labour at this year’s conference: repeal of the bedroom tax, guaranteed childcare for all primary school children from 8am-6pm, tougher enforcement of the minimum wage (including increasing the fine for non-payment from £5,000 to £50,000), a ban on Atos running Work Capability Assessments and a requirement for all companies to train an apprentice every time they hire a skilled worker from outside the EU.
But here’s one idea that it’s safe to say wasn’t on the grid. Today’s Times front page claims that the party is considering plans to remove child benefit from parents who refuse to give their children the MMR jab. It adds that the proposal, currently in place in Australia, is being explored by Jon Cruddas, Labour’s policy review coordinator, “as a way of attaching ‘conditionality’ to benefits and services provided by the state.” A source tells the paper: “This is an example of the sort of measure which we want to see that ties public goods to how people behave as citizens”.
In view of the low immunisation levels in some areas (more than 1,000 people caught measles in Swansea earlier this year), the proposal might seem reasonable to some, but it’s easy to see how it could quickly become politically fraught for Labour. Unlike other measures, designed to ease the “cost of living crisis”, here’s one that could increase it. Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, a former GP, was quick to brand it a “jab tax”.
Labour figures at last night’s New Statesman party reacted with bemusement when the policy was mentioned to them, suggesting that only Cruddas (who has warned that Labour would lose the election if his views were translated “into party policy”) could account for it.
— Sarah Wollaston MP (@drwollastonmp) September 22, 2013
And the party’s press office swiftly kiboshed it last night.
For those looking at Times story – this proposal is not part of the policy review.
— Labour Press Team (@labourpress) September 22, 2013