Jim on the politics of aspiration
DWP Minister Jim Murphy MP, the faster half of my early morning running partnership at NUS Conferences (in the days when I was thin), has contributed a chapter to a timely pamphlet (downloadable by following this link) launched by the Social Market Foundation yesterday about the Politics of Aspiration.
Speaking at the launch Jim said that the government had made real progress on poverty, but that without public consent we won’t eradicate material, relative and inter-generational poverty. He said we cannot tackle this problem through a ‘call to social solidarity’.
The UK has the second lowest tolerance of redistribution and calling for action on this topic would only reach out to a certain audience. To engage with the public on this need we to change the context of the debate. It needs to be framed around aspiration, because society is increasingly middle class and aspirational and we need to appeal to this "politics of aspiration”.
He said Government has made massive strides on redistribution, despite hostile public opinion. Post-97 we didn’t seek public consent on this matter, we just got on with it but haven’t taken public with us. Live 8 demonstrated that people care about global poverty, but this concern has yet to translate into caring about domestic poverty. Jim also felt that increasing immigration was leading to intolerance of the unemployed. The number of Poles employed in Britain was showing the public that there were jobs available, leading them to the conclusion that Brits on unemployment benefit were lazy.
To get the public on board we need to frame the debate about poverty as one about individuals not being able to succeed unless society succeeds and this problem needs to be tackled for society to succeed. i.e. an individual's success depends on the success of tackling poverty in society. This attitude is driving environmental policy and international policy (e.g. cut emissions for the sake of future generations and intervention in Afghanistan to tackle heroin problem).
He called for Government structure to change, as it is not built to tackle this problem. Institutions designed at a central level lack a community feel, so the welfare state needs to be devolved further. People in local areas know much better than Westminster what works.
He said the Government doesn’t, and shouldn’t, have a lever to micro-manage aspiration. The key way to raise aspiration is to get parents into work. This has a knock on effect on children. The Government also needs to offer more support to those who want to work and match people to jobs.
More compulsion is the way to tackle those who don’t want to work, greater intervention from advisers, more interviews etc. We need to put guarantees in place to ensure that people are better off in work. Periods of long term unemployment creates a scar on your employment record that stays with you.
Good stuff from one of the key players in the up-and-coming generation of middle-ranking Ministers - clear-headed thinking and looking at how the wider country, not just our own people, view tackling the issue, and how to get them to see the merits of Labour's agenda.