Peter Hoskin

So what now, Yvette?

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?

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