Better late than never

MOST people will welcome James Purnell’s welfare reform package. As an MP in a city that has been crippled by benefit dependency, I have no problem at all in telling claimants that they should make a contribution to society.

But what a pity we weren’t more radical in our first or second term, when we had 160-plus majorities. To get these new reforms through now, we’ll either have to do deals with the Tories or avoid left-wing rebellions by watering down the plans to the extent that they’ll be completely ineffective. I would prefer the former, but would much prefer not to have to do any deals at all.

The scandal of incapacity benefit (IB) claim levels is one for which the government should take its share of the blame; IB culture has led not only to a huge expense on the public purse but also, more importantly, to an unacceptable waste of human talent and resource, and contributed significantly to the growth of the underclass.

But let’s not forget that the policy of deliberately moving people off unemployment benefit into disability benefits was Margaret Thatcher’s. And after Thatcher had gone, the Tories never paid any serious attention to repairing that damage. For me, that was the greatest calamity inflicted on our nation by the Conservatives, and it is one for which they should never be forgiven. Iain Duncan Smith is a decent man who clearly has a genuine concern for people caught up in the benefits web, and for all the horrific social consequences that result. But I hope that he and other sensible members of his party will at least acknowledge that, while Labour could have, and should have, acted sooner and more radically, we are merely trying to clear up the mess left by his government.


Filed under Conservative Party, Government, Society

23 responses to “Better late than never

  1. Madasafish

    I promise it’s going to equal 10p tax as an own goal.

    The timing going into a depression is abysmal.

  2. Chris' Wills

    On the work fair issue, didn’t your party rail against this when the conservatives first proposed it?

    You can hardly blame a party that hasn’t been in power for over a decade for the continued existance of something you now, suddenly, see as a problem.

    Oh yes, the proposed attacks on/scapegoating of single mothers is not nice.
    When the Conservatives proposed something similar the then Labour party, rightly, attacked it strongly. Which is more important, children having a mother caring for them or forcing mothers to abandon their children to state care and getting a minimum wage job?

    Hopefully that part of the proposals will be binned very quickly.

  3. Rosie Beale

    I hope that Dennis Skinner, John Mcdonnell, Jeremy Corbyn et all are marshalling the troops on this one as we speak

    yes there are some work-sky bums..who could ever dispute that… but being a member of the Labour party brings on me a certain resposibility, that certanly includes not targeting the vulnerable in this country who rely on the state. Yes Ive heard Purnell’s weasel words that they will be protected but I dont believe him, those who continue to know how to play the system will do so and vulnerable people who have no one to stand up for them or fill in the woefully over complicated DWP forms will suffer.

    A Labour government relying on the Tories to get through legislation of this type makes me weep.

  4. Zorro

    Labour propaganda rubbish as usual. It’s not in your interest to cut the client state Tom, it’s your voters, remember? This will not happen to any great extent under Gordon.

    When Gordon says he’s looking out for “hardworkingfamilies”, what he in fact means is he’s taking MORE money from people who actually work, to give it to people who don’t – people who’ve been specifically encouraged NOT TO WORK by Gordon’s policies.

    Do you realise Tom, that the last budget means that a working couple will be >£2000 per year worse off, while a single mother on benefit will be >£1000 per year better off. How is that helping ‘hardworkingfamilies’??? How does that tie up with this latest wheeze to get people off of benefit?

    Tom, do you really believe a Labour government is going to punish people for not working at a time when jobs are drying up faster than a puddle of piss in death valley?

    Do you really believe that anyone apart from most of the permanently unemployed, people working in unnecessary roles in the public sector and a few thousand guardian reading vegan idiots will vote for Labour? Ever? In which case it’s not in Gordon’s interest to get people back to work is it? Which goes a long way to explaining the state this country is in I think.

  5. davidc

    ‘But let’s not forget that the policy of deliberately moving people off unemployment benefit into disability benefits was Margaret Thatcher’s. And after Thatcher had gone, the Tories never paid any serious attention to repairing that damage’.

    it was done to make the unemployment figures look ‘better’ but why has it taken a labour government eleven years to get round to doing something about ‘repairing that damage’ ?

  6. richard

    This plan will (supposedly) get 1 million people off benefits and into work.

    According to the latest figures there are approximately 600,000 jobs currently available in the UK economy (and falling rapidly).

    Am I the only one who sees an immediate problem with this brilliant plan?

  7. Well said Mr H, I agree with most of what you wrote especially about the timing.

    Being a sympathetic sort of chap I’ve always been wary of the “benefits scroungers” cliché of which some right-wingers are so fond. When I was younger and in work all the people I’d met who were on benefits were clearly legitimate claimants.

    However, since being forced into early retirement I’ve had time to become more active in the community and to meet a wider range of people. Working for a charity which helps people on low incomes I came across many deserving of state help but a sizeable minority who were taking the piss.

    It’s a tricky road to tread and hard to avoid the Victorian high minded mistake of classifying the poor simply as either deserving or undeserving. Life’s more complex than that.

    But, having seen the transformation in the lives of some of the people the charity helped to get back into work and off benefits, I’m certain that these measures are justified both from society’s and most individual claimant’s viewpoint.

    Whether they are vote winners or not shouldn’t be relevant. This shouldn’t be about short-term party advantage. I hope that fair-minded MPs from all parties find they can support these proposals and that their whips will allow them so to do.

  8. Is there not a ‘Third Way’ which avoids either either have to do deals with the Tories or making the plans completely ineffective?

    There are three main criticisms of these proposals from lefties:

    1. Handing over welfare services to private companies in a way which excludes smaller voluntary and community groups is a bad idea.

    2. Benefit sanctions and conditionality doesn’t, according to the government’s own research, increase the likelihood that the most disadvantaged will look for work.

    3. There needs to be more done to remove the barriers which people face in getting jobs (the “demand side” as well as the “supply side”) – e.g. it is ineffective just to put all the responsibility on disabled people to find work when there are lots of employers who won’t even consider employing someone with a disability.

    So this suggests three sets of amendments which would meet most leftie criticisms and make the proposals much more effective.

    *Create a ‘level playing field’ so that voluntary and community groups (who often know best how to help the people who will never go to a jobcentre) can get funding to deliver welfare services (rather than just giving billions in corporate welfare to international private companies which are good at writing bids but have no roots in local communities).

    *Make sure people have a proper right to appeal against decisions to cut their benefits and the opportunity to get independent advice (this won’t help the people who are taking the piss, but will help the most vulnerable).

    *Increase the support available to people so it actually meets their needs – for example, if parents are expected to look for work when their kids are one year old, they need to have a right to affordable, high quality childcare (n.b. this would be incredibly popular).

    Out of interest, are there any of those amendments which you would oppose, and if so, why?

  9. donpaskini – I think they’re pretty sensible, actually.

  10. richard

    “1. Handing over welfare services to private companies in a way which excludes smaller voluntary and community groups is a bad idea.”

    Agreed, welfare should be run by private companies and charities but both should have an explicit financial incentive to get people into work. This also has the double benefit of moving thousands of Social Services staff into the private sector.

    “2. Benefit sanctions and conditionality doesn’t, according to the government’s own research, increase the likelihood that the most disadvantaged will look for work.”

    Wrong. The government’s research was predicated on the assumption that people should still receive income from the state at present levels (and higher if you’re registered disabled).

    Reducing state benefits to subsistence levels has worked wonders in reducing unemployment in some areas of the US.

    “3. There needs to be more done to remove the barriers which people face in getting jobs”

    Wrong again. When people can continue to claim benefits as long as they are “actively seeking work” (regardless of outcome) there is no incentive to actually get work. If you lower people’s benefits to subsistence when they fail to get work then people will lower their expectations to more realistic levels.

  11. Steve

    I still think this avoids the bigger problem, just what jobs do these people go out and do?

    We used to have manufacturing, thats long gone, we used to have call centers, most of those have shut. You can talk about training all you want, but the high-skilled economy will never apply to everyone.

    The government moves work to some foreign land to save money, then pays the person who used to do that job to sit at home. Just how does that make sense?

  12. richard

    The benefits sector has grossly distorted the labour market in many old manufacturing areas.

    If you nudge people off welfare then I think we’d start to see the return of overseas roles by the thousands.

  13. Jane

    I think they are sensible and could have even gone a bit further. I believe that the state has a responsibility to look after those who are unable to look after themselves. However, I do not think that we should be dolling out taxpayers money to those who are able to work and refuse to do so. We need to break this culture for the good of us all – not just those who pay for it through taxation. All research indicates that the best way to alleviate child poverty is for parents to work. The government has tried in other ways to encourage employment. For example tax credits. This has helped to make employment albeit low paid more profitable. It has not shifted all attitudes and hopefully the new measures will assist further.

    In the area where I live, we rely on Eastern European workers for the food industry. At one time local youth were willing to undertake this employment and now they are not. They do not need to when they can claim benefits (and housing benefit as they wish to live independently from family). I would also point out that there are a lot of vacancies for unskilled work in this area. It has been forecast that higher unemployment will be in the South East – the financial sector.

    When we get a system that is fair to both claimant and tax payer, then we can increase benefits for a designated period to assist many “deserving” (I hate that term) claimants – for example those who lose employment.

    I do not have any moral difficulties with the job of assisting unemployed people being undertaken by a combination of voluntary or private companies. I have read of the success of private companies in other countries and I am a great believer in the voluntary sector.

    I know of no other country that permits fit and healthy people remain on benefits. A recent report about teenage pregnancies in Europe indicate that as well as poorer sex education, the UK’s welfare state encourages these pregnancies. I realise that others will point up the higher benefit rates in other European countries. However, some of these countries are willing to pay huge tax bills and others only provide higher benefits for a fixed period.

    Well done James Purnell. I would not mind him (or David Miliband)as leader of the Labour Party !

  14. Johnny Norfolk

    Tom why pick now it should have been done years ago. You are only doing it now so it will be the Tories that will have to carry it out.

    The Labour party is frit.

  15. ani

    If you lower people’s benefits to subsistence when they fail to get work then people will lower their expectations to more realistic levels.”

    An interesting point which brings to mind a recent article regarding a middle class woman who allegedly berated a Minister that the £60 a week unemployment benefit wasn’t sufficient for her, and that people in her position needed more funds to uphold their life style, than the er..shall we say? lower classes, and it didn’t appear that she was willing to lower her expectations.

    I suppose that she’d be entitled to other benefits and whatever Government help is available, but it does illustrate the severe reality check this woman faced, and perhaps the dawning realisation that state handouts aren’t that generous.

    Unfortunately too, under a Tory Govt. she’d fare no better, as any reading of their robust discussions about their own welfare plans on ConHome would demonstrate.
    Suggestions that ‘if you can get out of bed and pull your trousers on, you can work’, single Mum’s back to work when the youngest is four, and if there’s no prospect of a suitable job, then cleaning up dog dirt in the community was a useful alternative, or eventually being handed over to the charity organisations.
    One understood these comments at that time were primarily aimed at the ‘feckless Labour’ rather than the ‘respectable Tory’

    Subsidence level could mean, (helpful right wing suggestion on Tory blog), food stamps only, and no possibility of being able to obtain even the necessities of life to maintain health and cleanliness, and God only knows what roof you’d end up living under.
    Still, being reduced to dirty destitution would be an efficient inducement to look for work, and an employer to take you on.
    Bet that middle class woman is looking forward to it already.
    You don’t get more realistic than that, do you Richard. Nice one.

    “If you nudge people off welfare then I think we’d start to see the return of overseas roles by the thousands.”

    You mean ‘proles’?’moles’?

  16. wrinkled weasel

    My great Aunt spent most of her working life in a canning factory. Her first husband died of TB. Her second husband worked on the docks. That was in the days when you stayed working in the same place for 40 years and then retired with something to live on. She never voted Labour in her life, and the reason was that she believed in working hard and earning her keep. Even after retirement, she kept the garden of her tiny little terraced house clean and tidy. She got up at six and cleaned the house and cooked dinner for 12.30 pm.(with vegetables) She wasn’t bright, but she wasn’t stupid either.

    There is a whole tranche of people out there who will not work, who will not take a pride in their free homes and who breed freely. How come they still smoke 20 fags a day and have Sky TV? How come, Gordon Brown wants to dumb everyone down to their level by refusing to see them for what they are, which is a semi feral underclass who have, (and lets be clear about this) benefited from a legacy of state handouts that began during the war with Beveridge Report, inspired by work begun by David Lloyd George, and implemented by the 1945 Labour Government.

    Your take on History Tom, is not only selective, it is scandalously ignorant.

  17. richard

    There is rarely a situation that a full time role pays less than benefits.

    Millions of people live quite happily on low paying roles and if our middle class lady isn’t happy that the government won’t pay her £200K mortgage and high speed internet access then she’ll need to find something that pays more or accept that she’s living beyond her means.

  18. Toker

    Dear oh dear oh dear. You got a lot of Tories on ere today, innit?

  19. John Smith

    The Labour Party will destroy these proposals. The Government will take a long time before it accepts the fact it will need Conservative support to get the legislation through the House, by which time it will have been gutted.

    From what I’ve seen, these are sensible proposals to try and unwind problems which have been in endemic in the system for far too long. Too many people find it too easy to live off the system.

    Obviously you can’t let people starve, but if fit, able people refuse to work, or re-train, or take steps to help themselves, they should stop being propped up. Start cutting benefits back to the barest minimum and we’ll start to see an improvement in many case.

    But, I say again, the Labour Party will destroy these prosposals. On the way, it will take so long for them to get through Parliament, let alone come into effect, that recessionary fears of a shortage of jobs are probably ill-founded.

    But if the legislation is gutted by the time it comes into force, who really cares?

  20. ani

    @Richard “If you nudge people off welfare then I think we’d start to see the return of overseas roles by the thousands”.

    Ah. I’m getting it now. A ‘role’ is a job. Its business speak like ‘human resources’
    You should have said.

    So the scenario is that when citizens here are reduced to Tory destitution, those companies that took themselves off abroad enabling them to pay foreign employees diddly squat, will dump them (hell, that don’t matter does it?) return home, and Hooray! re-open their call centres and vacuum cleaner factories again and pay minimum wages – well, not that much if they can get away with it – to the grateful masses and middle classes?
    That’s the future?
    What a vote winner.
    Will it be in the Tory manifesto?

  21. richard

    I feel a Mr. Scrooge moment coming on.
    “If they would rather go destitute, they had better do it then, and decrease the surplus benefits expenditure”

    I’m a great believer in the welfare state but it should be exactly that, a means to promote the public welfare for those that are incapable, rather than those who choose not to accept roles that they feel are beneath them.

    A quick scooch at the jobcentre website reveals 3646 cleaner jobs. Why are these vacant?

  22. ani

    Well, Mr. Scrooge and friends, lets hope those cleaning jobs that are scattered across the country will not all be taken up in your neck of the woods – if there’s any justice, the likes of you will be fighting tooth and nail for one of them, and you’d better pray that AD isn’t driven by circumstances to lower or abandon the minimum wage.

  23. richard

    Better that he does abolish it. That’s one of the reasons why there are a hundreds of thousands of British salaries going overseas to India, Pakistan, China, etc.

    Are there no poorhouses? No workhouses?

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