Peter Hoskin

A decade of disappointment over welfare reform

A decade of disappointment over welfare reform
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On the day that Gordon Brown's set to back a raft of new welfare proposals, Melanie Phillips launches an incisive attack on the Government's past attempts at reform in this area:

"Today is supposed to prove that the pure flame of Blairism has been re-lit in Downing Street with the publication of the Government's latest wheeze for reforming welfare

According to some breathless advance spinning, this will resurrect a "radical" Blairite plan produced last year by the banker David Freud for contracting out welfare delivery to the private and voluntary sectors, proposals that were reputedly squashed by the then Chancellor, Gordon Brown ...

... But delivery is merely the end of the process. Any real reform of welfare depends on what policy the system is delivering. And on this crucial point the Government has not yet given any sign that it will get to the heart of our welfare malaise.

This is the fact that welfare is doled out regardless of how people behave. There is therefore no incentive to claimants to take responsibility for their own lives.

This is made even worse by means tests, which penalise people for hauling themselves out of hardship and encourage instead inertia, demoralisation, dependency and dishonesty. A helping hand out of disadvantage thus turns into a poverty trap.

Back in the mists of time before New Labour came to power, Tony Blair seemed to understand all this. There was much talk of adopting the radical American Wisconsin reforms which set a cut-off date for welfare payments and thus pushed claimants back to work, and of channelling into education the money that would be saved from social security.

This brave new world imploded with the sacking of Frank Field, the welfare minister who was appointed to think the unthinkable and then discovered that indeed it could not be thought - particularly by Chancellor Brown, who slammed the door shut on Field's proposals and his ministerial career."  

  The whole article is well worth reading.