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.