Family Credit (soon to be Working Families Tax Credit) is paid to low-waged workers with families to support. While it is low paid workers who directly receive these benefits, it is really an indirect way of subsidising bad employers who get away with underpaying their staff.
In a similar way, Housing Benefit, which is paid to tenants on low incomes, is an indirect way of enabling landlords to keep rents at a higher level than many people can afford to pay.
The political right's laissez-faire idea of the market finding its own level doesn't seem to apply here. Governments are always encouraged to intervene in the market place if the rich are going to benefit or if workers are to be bashed with anti-trade union laws.
Of course, while families are struggling on low incomes and while rents are beyond the reach of many workers, these benefits are necessary.
Last year around 750,000 families received Family Credit at a total cost of £2.3 billion. This shows what we knew already -- that Britain is a low-wage economy compared to other advanced capitalist countries.
Unfortunately, the government, though it says it wants to cut public spending, and presumably would want to cut the cost of supporting low waged families, is in practice doing its best to keep wages down.
It has already nailed its colours to the mast by saying that it intends to freeze public sector pay. And Chancellor Gordon Brown spelt out the government's view by calling for wage restraint in his budget speech.
But the Labour Party is not just Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The trade unions, many of whom are affiliated to the Labour Party, are stepping up the pressure on the issue of low pay. And they also want the Labour government to move quickly with its White Paper on Fairness at Work which would stop employers refusing to recognise trade unions.
The working class needs more than ever to fight on the issues of wages, working conditions and trade union rights. The government's policy of "welfare to work" will put people under pressure to take jobs. But job security, wages and conditions will still depend on the strength of the trade unions.
Because some of these employers will receive handouts from the government to part-pay the wages there is the danger that unscrupulous employers will employ new (subsidised) workers and ease their old (unsubsidised) workers out of the back door. Every worker needs to belong to a trade union and the trade unions need to fight for the repeal of the anti-union laws.
The government has also to be challenged as to where these jobs are to be found. Manufacturing industry has been run-down and many new jobs are part-time, temporary or on short-term contract. It's all very well banging on about "cool Britannia", but we can't all totter up and down catwalks and make pop records -- these things are no substitute for the highly skilled jobs that have gone.
Investment in training is not enough, there should be investment in creating real, full time, decently paid jobs.
We are also aware that the hidden subsidies paid to bosses through the benefits system is chicken-feed compared to the fortunes the very rich have made over the past twenty years from the income tax scandal.
This bonanza began with the Thatcher government who slashed the top rates of income tax from 90 per cent to 40 per cent. The wealthy saved billions in taxes they no longer had to pay and it contributed substantially to the widening gap between rich and poor.
Labour has pledged not to raise taxation in the course of this parliament -- a policy that has tied its hands in every area of public spending. It is high time the burden of taxation was shifted away from working people -- and that can only be done by introducing a system of progressive taxation which makes those who have the most, pay the most.
But he will be doing this by increasing the dependence of those in work on more benefits -- in the form of tax credits.
He is to create a new family tax credit which will guarantee that any family with at least one full-time worker will get an income of at least £l80 a week and will not pay tax until they earn over £220 a week.
So instead of doing away with the poverty trap, this will increase it by ensuring that any wage rise a low-paid worker will get will be matched by a cut in tax credit -- and probably at the same time by a reduction in housing benefit.
These two cuts will virtually wipe out wage rises and undermine the trade union struggle for higher wages.
In the long run this will not help to reduce Britain's enormous benefits bill. This bill is so high because so much is paid to people in full-time low-paid work.
It is scandalous that a full-time wage-earner cannot get enough pay to keep a family and pay rent without subsidy from taxes paid by other wage earners -- and themselves in indirect taxes like VAT.
The indirect benefit from such measures goes to greedy bosses and landlords because it enables them to keep wages low and rents high.
But this new family credit will not be introduced until October 1999. The way in which it will be administered has yet to be fully worked out -- for example how will tax credits be paid to low earning self employed workers.
One civil service trade union activist who works for the Inland Revenue told the New worker: "God knows how we're going to implement this. We're still in total chaos from self-assessment. We'll need a lot more staff but I don't see us getting them."
Gordon Brown says he is going to merge the National Insurance contributions administration with the Inland Revenue - and NI contributions will no longer be paid by anyone earning less than £81 a week.
This may seem like a fairly innocuous bit of tidying up but it does fall in line with other current Labour attacks on the whole concept of state welfare.
Many of those defending universal benefits use the argument: "I have been paying my NI contributions all my Life. I am entitled to my pension".
Labour is hoping that if NI contributions merge in with the rest of income tax, people will lose that sense of entitlement. We must combat this psychological ploy.
And indeed the budget held absolutely nothing for pensioners or others on benefits. All such measures have been postponed until the completion of Labour's long-running review ofthe whole state welfare system. We have been warned!
On transport the cut in road tax for smaller, cleaner cars is a step in the right direction.
The four-pence per litre rise in petrol tax is a mixed blessing. It will help to discourage the use of private cars and ease traffic congestion.
But it will also add to the cost of every commodity in our shops that has to he transported by road.
And it will hit very hard at low-paid people in rural areas where public transport is either abysmal or non-existent.
Surely it cannot be impossible to raise petrol tax on a differential basis -- with certain categories of vehicle users either exempted or eligible for refunds.
He has given an extra £500 million for public transport
including a £50 million rural transport fund. This is a pathetic
sum compared to the desperate need, especially when the rise in petrol
tax will raise around £3 billion.
It is useless to bring in punitive petrol taxes unless there is good, convenient, and reliable public transport already in place for ex-motorists to turn to.
But this cannot be achieved until public transport is taken back into public ownership.
More funding has been provided for health and education -- but again not nearly enough.
The London Underground system is in much the same position. The extra funding it has been awarded will be enough to effect urgently needed repairs and prevent further decay. But it is not enough to tackle more than a quarter of the backlog of maintenance work that has built up under the Tories.
Extra money for childcare will be very welcome by all working families.
But Gordon Brown's chief weakness is Labour's ridiculous self-imposed ban on raising taxes for the seriously rich. They are still laughing -- at our expense.
Meanwhile, in real life, the rounds of spending cuts are still going on, in town halls, fire stations, schools and so on throughout the country.
If he would only tax the rich, Gordon Brown could have changed
all that but he hasn't.
The Police Complaints Authority (PCA) last week broke with tradition by announcing the recommendation that the officers face charges because the public inquiry into the murder was about to begin.
A PCA spokesperson said: "It was felt important that all the officers involved and the Lawrence family themselves should know if any of the officers in charge face disciplinary charges."
Stephen Lawrence's family and their supporters have fought a five-year battle to get to the truth behind their son's murder.
They complained that the police at first refused to treat the incident seriously or as a racist attack -- even though there had been other racist attacks and two racist murders in the area within the previous two years.
One of those murders, that of Rohit Duggal, happened just a few hundred yards from the spot where Stephen was stabbed.
The police jumped to the conclusion that Stephen must have been involved in some sort of gang warfare.
Instead of taking witness statements quickly at the scene of the crime, they began investigating the victim's family, looking for criminal connections.
One the key witnesses, another black youth and a friend of Stephen who was present at the incident, was pressured by a police officer unconnected with the case to change his statement. When he changed it back again he was thereafter seen as an unreliable witness.
This is why the private prosecution brought by the family against five white youths was thrown out by the judge for lack of reliable evidence.
An inquest held a year ago concluded that Stephen had been unlawfully killed in an unprovoked racist attack by five white youths.
The PCA reports said the police had failed to follow up lines of inquiry, had ignored vital witnesses and handled identification evidence badly.
And it added: "In general, the investigation has identified weaknesses in the leadership, direction and quality of work of the first murder investigation.
"The quality of the supervision of officers was poor and assumptions were made about the standard of work being carried out that would not have with stood proper scrutiny."
Speaking on behalf of the Stephen Lawrence campaign, Ros Howells, a leading member of the local Council for Racial Equality, said that the family were pleased by the news that a senior police officer may be disciplined.
She said: "We have always known that the police failed. It's a pity that it's just one police officer and the others have retired, but we think it's great news.
"I think this has come as quite a shock to Doreen Lawrence [Stephen's mother]. But five years on we will never feel good until the perpetrators of the crime are behind bars."
Since the PCA announcement, Stephen Lawrence's father, Neville, has met Home Secretary Jack Straw over queries about retired judge Sir William Macpherson who is chairing the public inquiry. This follows revelations that Macpherson has a poor record on handling race relations.
On one occasion he ruled that a white parent could withdraw a child from a school with a large proportion of Asian children, even if the decision was based on racism.
As a High Court judge he had one of the worst records for refusing leave for judicial review in immigration cases.
But perhaps the worst instance was in the case of Mr Rajah, a victim of police racist violehce who had fought for six years to bring his claim to court, only to find that the judge, Macpherson, had decided to go to Ascot races for the day and would try the case the next day.
This extraordinary instance was reported in the Daily Mirror and other newspapers in June 1990.
Macpherson has since claimed that the case had been all but over and he was simply allowing time for both sides to negotiate a cash settlement.
But this is not how Mr Rajah and his supporters remember the incident. One of them told the New Worker how they were stunned not to find the judge in court after six long years of a hard legal battle to bring it there and how this undermined their confidence in the court's ability to take Mr Rajah's case seriously.
Neville Lawrence met Jack Straw on Tuesday evening, expressing his misgivings about Macpherson's competence.
Jack Straw has assured Mr Lawrence of his confrdence in Macpherson and said the progress of the inquiry will be watched carefully.
He persuaded Mr Lawrence to agree to continue to work with the inquiry.
Meanwhile the danger of racism has not gone from the area. Just two weeks ago the memorial plaque on the spotwhere Stephen Lawrence died has been vandalised.
Local Labour Party canvassers report a small but hard-core group of racists on two local estates.
And recently notorious NF leader Patrick Harrington began a post-graduate course of study al the Avery Hill, Eltham site of the University of Greenwich.
Local people have reported there is an upsurge of NF graffiti in the borough.
FOREIGN SECRETARY Robin Cook's tour of Israel degenerated into low farce when he was mobbed by Zionist settler fanatics in occupied Arab Jerusalem and snubbed by Israeli premier Benyamin Netanyahu, who cancelled a dinner arranged in Cook's honour.
Zionist extremists called Cook an "anti-semite" -- a term they use for anyone who doesn't agree with themselves -- and Israeli commentators made the predictable quips about "two many Cooks spoiling the broth".
All agree that the Foreign Secretary's trip has worsened relations with Tel Aviv -- but that may have been Cook's intention all along.
Cook faced angry Zionist settiers when he went to visit the site of the controversial new settlement in what they call "Hat Homa" -- planted deep into Palestinian land on the suburbs of Jerusalem.
Cook went to the site as a gesture of solidarity with the Palestinians and to demonstrate the British government's official position which does not recognise Tel Aviv's annexation of Arab east Jerusalem.
Earlier he pointedly responded to an official welcome to "Jerusalem, the capital of Israel" by Israeli Cabinet Secretary Danny Nevah, saying "It's also the capital of the Palestinians".
Netanyahu then cancelled the dinner engagement, designed to promote "friendship and understanding", to show his solidarity with the settlers who helped vote him in at the last election.
Officially Cook went to Israel to present the European Union's six-point plan to get the peacetalks back on track and pave the way for Tony Blair's trip to Tel Aviv in April.
The plan -- calling for a substantial new pull-out frorn the West Bank and a new Palestinian crack-down on the Islamic resistance -- was treated with polite indifference by his Israeli hosts.
Britain and the Europeans have no real influence in Israel because Israel is entirely dependent on the United States -- economically, militarily and politically. They can make protests and sympathetic noises to Palestinian demands but that's as far as it goes. And that's been the case for at least the past 20 years.
But British imperialism was shocked at the wave of anti-Western feeling which swept the entire Arab world during the last crisis. Union Jacks were being burnt in the streets along-side the Stars and Stripes when the Arab masses saw that the drive to war against Iraq was being led exclusively by Britain and the United States.
British imperialism has an important stake in the plunder of the Arabs' oil and other mineral resources. Until now, Britain has posed as the friend of the Arabs -- or at least the oil shiekhs -- by paying lip-service to Palestinian rights. Now this has been exposed Cook doubtless hopes that his public demonstration of support to the Palestinian Arabs will go some way to restoring British prestige in the region.
While it may provide a convenient alibi for the oil princes to continue their dependence on Britain and the Americans it doesn't fool progressive Arabs.
They know that Israel is answerable only to the Americans -- and if Britain wants the "peace process" to move they should make their case in Washington, not Tel Aviv.
He was speaking to the women's TUC conference in Scarborough last Thursday and described the joy of finally getting rid of the 18-year Tory regime last May.
"May the first -- out of darkness into light -- or at least into dappled shade."
He referred to the "dark days" under the Tories when "we often relied on European law" and using the Tupe (transfer of undertakings) European Community regulations to protect the wages and conditions of public sector workers, many of them women, whose jobs were privatised.
He listed some successes, notably the equal pay victory in the Julie Hayward case.
"But it was all hard work -up hill work with the burden of government oppression on our backs," he said.
"But at least we knew where we stood. The Tory government hated us." Mr Edmonds went on to note that under the new Labour government, the lobbying skills developed under the Tories are still needed as much as ever.
He said: "I noticed that the government seemed to be impressed by 100,000 people walking through London wearing green barbour jackets and waving foxes' tails.
"I remember when we turned out demonstrations of more than a quarter of a million to support a trade union agenda which was far nobler than anything the Countryside Alliance stands for.
"We did it then, and -- if that's what it takes -- we will do it again."
He explained that "profound changes in the labour market" have heightened insecurity and led employers into temptation -as though the exploitation of labour was something new and surprising.
"Thousands of people rang the TUC Bad Boss hotline a few months ago. Too many people are working in appalling conditions, too many people are bullied and harassed and too many of them are women," he said.
He reminded the government of growing support for improvements in worker's rights but the demands he put forward were very modest: an end to check-off authorisation; the enactment of minimum wage laws; the introduction of European working time regulations; more rights for part-time workers; more parental leave and the publication of the Fairness at Work White Paper.
This is the measure, due to end up as a Bill in next autumn's Queen's speech, which will force bosses to recognise trade unions where more than half the workforce wish it so.
And right now the Blair government is dragging its heels on getting this together because the Confederation of British Industry, representing Britain's bosses, does not like it.
Currently exhausting behindthe-scenes negotiations are going on as the bosses try to water down the measure so that "half the workforce" will include all management staff and those eligible to vote who do not do so will be counted as no votes.
And it is this delay by Labour that is denying justice to workers at factories like Noons in Southall and Walkers' Crisps in Peterlee, County Durham, who face appalling exploitation while the bosses give the two-finger sign to the unions.
John Edmonds warned: "Let's be frank. We are not going to let the CBI wreck the White Paper and we are not going to let employers deny working people in this country the civil basic right of being represented by a recognised trade union."
But he added: "I do not believe that all members of the government have yet appreciated just how nasty employers can be in this de-regulated labour market of ours."
He distinguishes between good bosses, who he says have nothing to fear from trade union rights, and the bad bosses: "We say to employers: Your choice -- constructive partnership or a war of attrition."
This fails to recognise that fundamentally the interests of bosses and workers cannot be reconciled. The free market of capitalism, with imperative to make ever more and more profits or go bankrupt, will, in the end, force all bosses to squeeze everything they can out of the workers for the lowest possible wages.
The war of attrition will be inevitable. We hope the TUC is getting itself ready but we need to do more than merely hope.
Union recognition is important but there are many more basic union rights that need to be won back from our ruling class, especially the right to take solidarity action.
It is the Tory anti-trade union laws - and TUC acquiescence to them -- that defeated the miners in 1985; the print workers and more recently the Liverpool dockers.
It was the anti-trade union laws that allowed a tin-pot sweated labour cleaning company like Pall Mall to thumb its nose at the giant public sector union Unison and prevent it defending the Hillingdon Hospital strikers from an awful employer.
European or any other regulations are no use without a strong trade union movement to insist on their implementation. But young people will not be attracted to join unions if they see them as impotent in the face of bosses like Noons and Pall Mall.
John Edmonds, on behalf of the TUC said: "We have learnt that to be successful, you need to be relentless."
Let's hope this, and the promise of a march for trade union rights,
will be translated into action soon.