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Saturday, 24 August 2013 00:00

Reclaiming social security

by Bernadette Horton

Labour needs to become a 'pro-people' party once again

Liam Byrne mentioned "social security" no less than 12 times in his speech this week.

It's something many Labour supporters and campaigners have been urging Labour to start talking about for the past two-and-a-half-years years.

In previous years Labour has unashamedly marched in time to Tory rhetoric by using the same language as the out-of-touch aristos of society they represent.

Labour talks of "welfare, shirkers, skivers and scroungers" as often as the PM seems to go on holiday.

Many core supporters and card-carrying members of the Labour Party have banged their heads against walls as Labour shamefacedly used the language of the right.

Many repeatedly questioned why Labour was moving into enemy territory and acting like them.

But this week Byrne (below) signalled a change in spin strategy by using the correct term for our pensions, benefits, etc as social security - the security of knowing that if you are disabled, become disabled, become ill, become unemployed, become old or have to leave your job to become a carer, our proud state will step in to provide social security for a short while, while you get on your feet to find a job or for longer if your disability renders you incapable of working.

No apologies needed, Labour. No need to look anxiously over your shoulder to ascertain who is in support of you or not.

Byrne spent a good chunk of his speech - quite rightly - focusing on IDS's "reforms" within the DWP.

But Byrne did not quite shout loud enough about the human cost of Iain Duncan Smith's abysmal, abhorrent cuts.

The Labour Party should be about people - workers, disabled, unemployed, carers and pensioners. It has a proud history of standing up against human suffering.

Duncan Smith and his henchmen at the DWP never speak of people and the human cost of their policies.

They rattle off stats, mostly made up at whim to scaremonger about supposed rates of fraud within the system.

The Labour Party should know better. There are so many stories of people suffering on the front line.

Mr and Mrs Smith battling the bedroom tax, Ms Jones wondering how she will afford to even rent on a nurse's salary, Mr Bloggs on £13k a year with three kids who cannot make his income stretch a month, Mr Watson borrowing from payday loan companies month after month just to survive. Mrs Shaw battling cancer and being told she is fit for work by Atos.

Labour's need to focus on these people who are suffering under the government's "welfare reform."

By all means highlight the human cost with a few figures, but highlight the real people suffering the most.

Take your MPs out of Westminster and into ordinary life, Ed Miliband, and see the real stories for yourselves.

Unite has produced a teachers' resource pack, to educate children about their rights as human beings to protest about things they feel are unfair, to know their rights in the workplace.

It's an absolutely brilliant idea that needs trumpeting and celebrating, not fearfully hiding in the corner in case the Mail and Telegraph accuse Labour of being in league with the unions.

Let's celebrate our union affiliations - the people who put money into the Labour Party from the sweat of their brow like nurses, police officers, teachers and binmen.

Now's the time to say: "Yes the Labour Party is proud to be affiliated to unions who represent the rights of working people. They have a right to stability in their work contracts, the right to know exactly how many hours they will work next week. The right to not be forced into a zero-hours contract. The right to a living wage."

Now Labour has finally seen the sense in kicking welfare out of social security, start standing up tall and speaking out loud and proud about the people you represent.

You will be surprised just how many new voters you will secure and how many old Labour voters will come back into the fold.

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