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Why 'Making Work Pay' Is the Tories' Smartest Slogan

They say they're the party of strivers, but figures released today show the majority of people living in poverty in Britain are actually in work.

by Sam Wolfson
07 December 2016, 3:00pm

The Aylesbury Estate in south London (Photo: Jake Lewis)

The current popularity of the Tory party is, at least in part, down to consistent and simple messaging that gets through to the public. They've got all their classics – "The mess we inherited from Labour," "Making the tough decisions," "Economic stability" – and their latest hit: "Brexit means Brexit."

But perhaps their biggest smash – their second encore, their "Rockin' in the Free World" – is this: we need to make work pay. When they slash benefits, claim that the severely disabled are fit for work or introduce an illegal bedroom tax, their refrain is always the same: working people shouldn't earn less than people on benefits; we need make work pay.

This is David Cameron last year:

"This goes to the heart of the country we are trying to build. One based on the principle of something for something, not something for nothing, where those who put in get out, where hard work is rewarded – where we make work pay."

This is an ingenious slogan. For a start it's a loud dog whistle to Mail and Sun readers who every day hear about "benefits queens" who earn tens of thousands of pounds having never worked. It reinforces the completely false idea that people who are out of work are out of work because they're feckless, and the largely false idea that you can have a decent quality of life living on benefits alone.

"Making work pay" also sounds like a positive thing – like giving workers more money – when in fact the plan is "to make work pay", i.e. if you don't work you're now going to be much poorer. It implies to people of all classes that the Conservatives are serving hard workers – people like you and me – whether we work in Tesco or an investment bank, even though nothing could be further from the truth.

So that's why the slogan works. But how are they getting on with making work actually pay?

Well, new figures released today from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that the majority of people in poverty in Britain – 55 percent – are in work. In fact, since the Tories took power in 2010, in-work poverty has risen by 1.1 million. Overall, the report suggested 7.4 million people, including 2.6 million children, are living in poverty in the UK. In other words, work isn't paying very much at all.

The truth is that making work pay shouldn't be a conservative cause, but a progressive one. Making work pay should mean the minimum wage is the same as the living wage, as set by the Living Wage Foundation, not the bullshit "national living wage" that the government has used to rebrand poverty pay. Making work pay means ensuring those on low-pay receive housing benefit, and that private landlords are forced to accept housing benefit tenants so that low-paid workers aren't turned away from flats they can afford. It may also mean nationalising the railways so people don't spend half their salary getting to work – or even nationalising utility companies so people aren't charged exorbitant rates for energy to keep up profits.

The only thing the Tories have done to help people on low pay is to reduce the amount of income tax they pay. This does mean they take home more money each week, but those on low pay are also the most frequent users of public services, which have less funding as a result.

The reason the conservatives haven't been able to make work pay is because the party don't really care about workers. They just want to ensure that those out of work, because of disability or unemployment, receive the absolute bare minimum. It's a great slogan, but there's no truth to it: in Britain today, even millions of people who do go to work every day don't have enough to live on.

@samwolfson

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