Liam Byrne’s attack on the workless benefit cap this morning is interesting, because he’s trying to position himself as tougher than the Conservatives on out-of-work benefits. Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary said:
‘The benefit cap is a good idea in principle but it’s already fallen apart in practice. Ministers have bodged the rules so the cap won’t affect Britain’s 4,000 largest families and it does nothing to stop people living a life on welfare. The government needs to go back to the drawing board, design a cap without holes and put a two-year limit on the time you can spend on the dole, like Labour’s compulsory jobs guarantee.’
In the early days of debate about the cap, Labour preferred to attack the cap on the basis that it hits larger families hardest (it is calculated by adding all the benefits the family is entitled to together, and only paying the housing benefit that makes the difference between the total benefit entitlement and the £26,000 cap, which means larger families receive a very small amount of rent money indeed) and that it made many areas unaffordable. Clearly the party has realised that this attack means nothing to voters, who if anything want a tougher cap. Instead, Byrne is focusing on those families who will fall through the holes in this cap. A parliamentary question from Labour found 4,000 out of work families will still receive more than £26,000 in benefits.
Whether Byrne can keep the tough Labour narrative going depends very much on whether his colleagues are able to restrain themselves from attacking the cap, given that’s what they’ve spent the past couple of years doing.