We seem to be in interesting times in British politics, with Iain Duncan Smith resigning from the government over attempts to reduce the disability welfare budget. Some suggest it's more to do with causing damage to his enemies in the in/our battle over the EU - but I tend to side with those who think that IDS was genuinely trying to do something positive for welfare, and that he genuinely cares about welfare/work.
I think that in responding to this, the left wing has to be really careful about the whole business of welfare, because from something I heard at the weekend I worry that some regard welfare, and specifically in-work benefits, as a good thing in its own right, rather than a necessary evil.
I was listening to Any Questions/Any Answers on the radio, and a caller was denouncing the government's apparent wish to reduce and/or get rid of in-work benefits. I personally think that working credits was a cack-handed way to introduce negative income tax, and it would have been much better handled as a simple tweak to the income tax system, rather than a whole separate system. But it was a noble aim, as a temporary fix. What worried me is that caller dismissed the idea of the living wage, saying 'yes, but that's just the employer paying,' or words to that effect. She saw the benefits as an inherent good, rather than a patch for an inadequate reward for employment.
I'm a realist. I know we aren't going to achieve a perfect world. But surely our goal should be to have a living wage that means most people currently receiving in-work benefits can live on their earnings and not need in-work benefits? Surely the employer paying an employee sufficient to live on if they are going to do a full time job is a good thing, not something to be dismissed in favour of eternal welfare?
Of course, some businesses will whine 'we can't afford to pay people a living wage.' Well, guess what? That means they aren't running a viable business. Simple as that.