Iain Duncan Smith’s speech today setting out the moral mission behind his welfare reforms (his series of interventions doing this was previewed in the Spectator at the start of this year) has attracted the usual criticism from Labour for having ‘nothing to say about the cost-of-living crisis’ and a programme ‘in complete disarray’.
The opposition has a point about the delivery of the reforms and the detail in some cases – it would be a fib to say Universal Credit has enjoyed a smooth ride, although some of its most nervous critics in government currently seem a little more optimistic – but what Labour does struggle to do is give any sense of a distinctive overall reform programme. That’s because it still supports Universal Credit in principle and accepts that it should have made greater efforts to reform welfare when in office. Even those who criticise the detail of the reforms accept that stasis is not an option. For example, while I’ve written about the problems with the design and delivery of the Work Capability Assessment, there is little to commend what came before these tests, which was Incapacity Benefit claimants receiving very little if any monitoring of their conditions.
What’s interesting about the overall principle of the welfare reforms is that politicians in other countries are now taking an interest in replicating them. Duncan Smith visited the US in September 2013 for meetings with Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Paul Ryan and Todd Young about Universal Credit. The reforms in this country were based on the Wisconsin welfare reforms, but now Republicans are interested in using UC as a model for taking their own reforms further. Ryan praised the British welfare reforms in this interview in January (although he too described UC as having had ‘some hiccups and rough patches in implementing it’).