MPs hoping to be the Labour party’s next leader or deputy leader are lining up to kick claimants as they seek to blame anyone but themselves for the disastrous election result. In one case the attack on claimants was made from the offices of accountants who narrowly escaped prosecution for involvement in tax dodging.
Leadership front-runner Andy Burnham supports the Conservative’s plans to lower the level of the household benefits cap, plunging more families into poverty, According to the Independent Burnham argued that people see Labour as being “soft on people who want something for nothing”.
In a speech to Ernst and Young, the accountancy firm which paid out £82 million in 2013 to avoid criminal charges in the US for aiding tax dodgers, Burnham argued:
“I was talking about an impression on the doorstep and there is that feeling, some people say, that Labour want to be soft on people who want something for nothing. We’ve got to be honest about that. That is a feeling that’s out there, that was still being replayed at this election.”
Another leadership contender, Liz Kendall, told the Guardian she supported the cap on household benefits because “voters in my constituency do not feel people who are not working should get more than those in work”.
According to the Guardian Kendall also claimed that the public do not trust Labour on benefits and that “too often people are being left without the tools they need to get themselves back into work”.
Meanwhile the Sun claims that Caroline Flint, hoping to become Labour’s deputy leader told them that the Labour needs to start attacking benefits scroungers as much as bankers and should give people choosing to live off benefits a “kick up the backside”.
The only – partial - exception to the attack on claimants has been leadership candidate Yvette Cooper, who told the BBC that:
"What I won't do is fall in to what I think is a Tory trap of using language which stigmatises those who are not working. I don't think that is about Labour values.
"I think the important thing is to talk about responsibility - responsibility to work, responsibility to contribute - but not to stigmatise those who are unable to work, perhaps because they are too sick or too disabled to do so."
However, Cooper still supports the proposal to lower the benefits cap.
There was good reason for claimants to vote Labour in the recent election in the hope of preventing the Conservatives returning to power and imposing £12 billion in benefits cuts. However, by 2020 it is likely that the Tories will have done their worst.
If Labour continue to use the language of prejudice and division when it comes to benefits, it seems likely that claimants at the next election will take their votes elsewhere.