Peter Hoskin

The need to go further and faster on Welfare reform

The need to go further and faster on Welfare reform
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I’m on my way to the home city of the best football club in the world (and one of the worst) shortly.  In the meantime, it’s worth flagging up this morning’s reports on Tory welfare policy, which we’ll be hearing more about later today.  Basically, the Tories are going to re-emphasise that they’d put incapacity benefit claimants through medical tests, to check their ability to work, and that the more effective private-sector wing of the welfare service would be massively expanded.  While this is, in essence, an extension of existing government welfare policy, it’s certainly to be welcomed.  There will be over 6 million out-of-work benefit claimants when the next government comes to power – so there are all kinds of moral and economic imperatives for going further, faster, stronger with welfare reform.

But it’s only half of the story.  As I recently blogged – and as Fraser wrote in the magazine – the existing benefits system is itself a major disincentive for people getting back into work.  You can have a private sector welfare provider on every street corner, but they’re limited in what they can do when claimants feel – sometimes wrongly, sometimes rightly – that they’d earn more on benefits than in work.  Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice recently released an important report which offered a solution to this problem, but it’s one which the Tory leadership don’t seem to be thinking about too much.  When I spoke to a senior Tory source about it, they said that proposing a simplified benefits system, which removes disincentives to work, is a “post-election aim”.  When I asked why, they responded “it’s a matter of putting in the work”.  

Hm.  You can only hope that recent rumours that IDS is in line for a role in a Cameron government mean that this important policy issue is going to get fast-tracked.  Watch this space.