The welfare state has incubated the very ‘giant evils’ it was designed to eradicate. There are, scandalously, 2.6 million on incapacity benefit right now – a category which ensures they don’t count in unemployment figures. Brown didn’t care much, but Grayling is taking this head-on. In tests on 1,700 IB claimants in Burnley and Aberdeen, it was found that 30 percent were fit for work, 40 percent genuinely incapacitated and the rest capable of some work.
When Iain Duncan Smith was recalled to run welfare reform, his revolutionary ‘universal credit’ was adopted on the condition that it was applied over a ten-year period. Grayling was tasked with the more immediate reform. Today he began to implement the plan he devised three years ago with the Green Paper on welfare reform. It was a series of welfare-to-work reforms so radical that they caught the public imagination. Labour copied them. However, James Purnell could never get Brown to approve his more radical plans, so the agenda has been on ice. Until now.
The government intends to start by assessing 7,000 people a week: a staggering amount. This will then rise to 10,000 in April. Meanwhile, more welfare-to-work providers will be appointed and paid up to £14,000 for getting hard-to-place people in work. The highest payouts would go, for example, to those who train someone off incapacity benefit and into work for at least two years. Grayling has performed the AME/DEL switch (or ‘Amy Toby’ as the BBC’s Kim Catcheside called it) which means the budget previously earmarked for the dole can be accessed to pay for people who come off dole. It says much about the difficulty of getting welfare reform through that this basic accountancy manouevre is seen as a revolution in Whitehall.