Fraser Nelson

Spinning a revolution

Spinning a revolution
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At 7.10am this morning, there was a prime example of why Brown may get away with posing as the champion of welfare reform. Kim Catcheside, the BBC’s social affairs correspondent, was explaining Alistair Darling’s new plans to test everyone on incapacity benefit to see what work they could do (ie, the Tory plan). Catcheside said disabled groups are worried because “at least 50,000 over three years could fail this new test.” Um, that works out at 16,700 a year, or 0.7% of the 2.6m on incapacity benefit roll, ie, an utterly meaningless reduction and ergo an equally meaningless policy. But the funding, she said, was “potentially the most fascinating thing about this”. She then said:-

“What they’re going to allow the DWP essentially to spend money on welfare to work programmes on the basis that they’re going to save it later on. Apparently it’s something called Amy Toby. Or something. AME Dell. That’s it. I knew it was someone’s name. It’s done in the States, it’s never been done here before. But essentially they can spend money they think they’re going to save later on.”

Fascinating? Not even I would go that far. The DWP spends about £180bn of our money – but this is split into its departmental running cost (Departmental Expenditure Limits, or DEL) and the actual benefits (Annual Managed Expenditure or AME) James Purnell’s DEL budget is falling (£8bn now, £7.5bn in 2010-11) but it will cost a fortune to match the Tory policy and test everyone on benefits. So what can he do? Dip into the AME budget. Or, in other words, bust his DEL budget and spend, spend, spend some more. An accounting formality lets him do so. But if can be spun as some kind of a revolution to journalists, then the government’s job is done.

Remember, Brown will win the next election by confusing issues to the extent that the average voter can not say why a Tory policy is better (ie, inheritance tax). And can even CoffeeHousers name three reasons why the Tory welfare policy is better? If not, then Brown has won.

PS – A line from today's Radio Four’s Thought for the Day: “Taxes can make us better people”.

Written byFraser Nelson

Fraser Nelson is the editor of The Spectator. He is also a columnist with The Daily Telegraph, a member of the advisory board of the Centre for Social Justice and the Centre for Policy Studies.

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