Peter Hoskin

Going further on welfare reform

Going further on welfare reform
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James Purnell yesterday confirmed that David Freud-style welfare reform will be implemented by the Government. And now Frank Field writes a comment piece for the Telegraph, warning his Labour compatriots not to get complacent on the issue. As usual, he's well-worth listening to:

“It is not the first time that Labour has trumpeted its credentials and objectives on welfare reform. The electorate won't be so easily beguiled this time. With an election unlikely to take place until the very end of the parliament, voters will want to see results rather than listen to brave rhetoric...

...But to match fine rhetoric the government will have to be far more radical than it has disclosed to its parliamentary supporters. Three further mini revolutions are required.

The Government's thinking on single parents is confused. In future single parents will have to seek work after their youngest child reaches not sixteen, as at present, but at 7. The truth is however that most single parents drawing benefit do so for a short period and move back into work just as soon as they know it is safe for their children.

The growing problem is of very young single parents who have never worked and who are likely to have children by different fathers. Overwhelmingly these young single mothers come from school girls who fail, and are dismally failed, by their school.

The most successful way of cutting this supply route to very young single parenthood is to raise the educational achievements of those girls who gain no qualifications whatsoever from the £40,000 taxpayers spend on each child's schooling. Here is another area that ought to be opened up to competition...

...Next, the Government should allow the Jobcentre Plus offices to turn themselves into companies to compete for this new work...

...Lastly, America's welfare revolution worked partly because benefit was time limited. In those areas where there has been a sustained increase in jobs over the past ten years, and starting with young claimants first, benefit should be time limited. The word needs to go out to every young person that living on benefit is no longer a career option.

The guy I buy my coffee from in the morning has run the franchise also for ten years. Every day during this time at least two and may be as many as five young people come in asking for a job. Not once has any of those young people been British.”

After Purnell's announcement, the question for the Tories is of how they can seize back the lead on welfare reform. I still think that Brown's centralising bent will lose it for Labour. But waiting on the Prime Minister won't do Team Cameron any good – instead, they should tread the path that Field signposts.