Peter Hoskin

The coalition pins a number on its welfare reforms

The coalition pins a number on its welfare reforms
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The coalition has few better defenders of its cause than Nick Clegg. And if you need proof, then I'd point you in the direction of his article for the FT when the IFS first called the Budget "regressive"; his article on welfare reform for the Times in September; or his summertime speech on social mobility, which, along with his 2009 conference speech, is perhaps the defining statement of his politics.

I mention all this now, because there's another effective Clegg article in the papers this morning – again on welfare reform, and again dripping with punchy arguments in the coalition's defence. Rather than buckle to the charges made by the Archbishop of Canterbury and his ilk, the Deputy Prime Minister outlines out a clear truth: that a life trapped on benefits is not a better life. Or as he puts it when discussing Gordon Brown's policy of directing tax credits towards the poor to make them a little less poor, "Poverty plus a pound is simply not an ambitious enough goal". The piece ends: "We are reforming welfare to make work pay, to encourage responsibility and to change lives for the better. That's what we mean by fairness."

But aside from the article's rhetoric, two things stand out. First is Clegg's claim that, "Labour politicians who have honestly wrestled with welfare reform are broadly supportive." The plan here, no doubt, is to nullify Ed Miliband's attacks by highlighting the developing consensus around welfare reform.

And then there's Clegg's suggestion that, "our welfare reforms should reduce the number of workless households by 300,000 within three years of implementation." This is a figure that I'd never seen before, neither in the ONS's workless household figures nor the OBR's projections – although I could have missed it somewhere. The question now is whether that 300,000 fall will come specifically because of reform, or because of general growth in the economy reversing the 400,000 rise in workless households over the past three years. In any case, the coalition have now pinned a number on what they hope to achieve – and their opponents will be able to judge them by it.