Back when Radio 4’s Thought for the Day was original and insightful, Lionel Blue was a regular source of rabbinical wisdom and dodgy jokes. Sometimes he’d come up with a phrase, a concept, that let you see the world in an entirely new way. One certainly changed how I see politics: his notion of ‘moral long-sightedness’. The ability to see and get worked up about problems thousands of miles away or a hundred years’ hence, while failing to see the scandal under one’s own nose.
It sums up the indifference over welfare. It’s in crisis, with 4,000 claiming sickness benefit every day. Worklessness scars our great cities: in Manchester, 18 per cent are on out-of-work benefits. In Glasgow and Liverpool it’s 20 per cent, in Middlesborough 22 per cent and Blackpool 25 per cent – figures that would be scandalous in a depression but this is in the middle of a worker shortage crisis. The costs surge every year. Britain has somehow succeeded in making the most expensive poverty in the world.
In short, the rise of mental health complaints has discombobulated the welfare system with high numbers being sent to the economic scrap heap deemed unable to do any work. It’s now at almost 40,000 a month:
The last pre-Budget report proposed a crackdown on conditionality which I regarded too little, too late. But was I being too mean? This is now assessed by the Office for Budget Responsibility but it takes a few weeks for this to feed through into the DWP caseload forecast, one of the most important documents to not be reported. The update was released before Christmas and it shows that the disability benefit caseload is expected to rise by an average of 920 a day for the next five years.