Peter Hoskin

So what now, Yvette?

So what now, Yvette?
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Aside from the failure of other ministers to follow his lead, one of the saddest aspects to James Purnell's resignation is that the DWP has lost an extremely capable minister.  Yes, I know he's not a particular favourite of CoffeeHousers - but he was instrumental in getting David Freud's welfare reform agenda accepted as government policy, and even hired Freud as an adviser.  Before Freud's defection to the Tories, all signs were that the duo would push through some of the radical measures that the country requires as both job queues and welfare bills soar.

But now Purnell's gone, one of the questions swirling around the Westminster policy arena is what the appointment of Yvette Cooper will mean for welfare reform. The signs aren't particularly clear.  One line of thought is that welfare reform is now too much of a consensus issue for the Government to dilute it; another is that Brown might cede to union pressure, and use the opportunity to row back on Purnell's plans.  So far, Cooper hasn't said anything conclusive on the issue.

It's noteworthy, then, that the Tories - via Cooper's opposite number, Theresa May - have decided to put a series of ten questions to the Work and Pensions Secretary; some asking about policy, some trying to expose a few Brownies.  Here's the full list:

1) James Purnell promised a moratorium on Jobcentre Closures and then proceeded to close three more Jobcentres in London. Will you promise not to close any more Jobcentres during the recession?

2) Will you finally agree to Conservative proposals to relax the rules on Jobseeker's Allowance to allow people who have been made unemployed retrain immediately instead of waiting for up to 6 months?

3) Will you confirm that the Government plans to shut down its flagship employment programme, the New Deal across half the country this summer?

4) Contracts for the Flexible New Deal, due to replace the original New Deals this October have been delayed repeatedly, will you confirm when the contracts will be awarded?

5) Will you confirm that Flexible New Deal will be fully operational in all phase 1 areas by 5th October?

6) Will you drop the Government's plans to force lone parents with children as young as 1 to undertake activities to prepare for work under the threat of benefit sanctions?

7) Will you extend proper back to work programmes to people already claiming Incapacity Benefits instead of just one interview?

8) Will you confirm that Incapacity Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance claims are now rising, and the Government is on track to miss its target to reduce IB/ESA claims by 1 million by 2015?

9) Will you confirm that the Government is on track to miss it's target to reduce child poverty by half by 2010 and that the 2009 Budget did nothing to help tackle child poverty?

10) Will you confirm that youth unemployment is higher than when labour came to power? While I'm not so sure about the direction of some of the questions (number 6, in particular, is unhelpfully emotive), the medium is just as interesting as the message.  Just imagine if the Tories put out a set of ten simple questions on, say, the public finances ("Does real-terms public spending increase or decrease from 2011 onwards?" etc.) to show up Brown even more on the "Tory cuts" issue.  Sure, they may not get a response - as they probably won't get a response from Cooper - but they will have pushed the debate that little bit further into the public eye.