Fraser Nelson

Tory welfare plan is welcome but does not go far enough

Tory welfare plan is welcome but does not go far enough
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The Tories new welfare plan is, it seems, their old welfare plan – with a more ambitious timeline. It’s to be welcomed, but this is not the step change that you’d expect. In Jan08 Chris Grayling broke new ground when he proposed diagnosing all 2.7m on incapacity benefit for what work they could do (as opposed to the ‘ill’ or ‘sick’ binary distinction). Today, they express an ambition to get this done in three years. Set aside questions as to whetehr you can find enough doctors to do 2,500 “capabilty asssessments” every day – all this means is going a little faster on the original Freud proposal. There is a welcome move towards benefit simplification, but I have to agree with the conclusions of James Purnell on Open Left.

This would be a good idea if they were proposing to do it. Indeed, it’s government policy – with the Flexible New Deal bringing previous New Deals in to one, and the December 2008 White Paper proposing the same for IB and lone parents. But the press release then goes to on to add back in Youth Action for Work, Work Pairings, Work for Yourself, Work Together, Work Clubs. So, seven programmes, not one. Moreover, these seem to have a lot of the features (especially centralized [sic] design) of the original New Deal which the Tories say failed.

Now, what the Tories say today is welcome. That all of IB is involved, that you can switch funds from AME to DEL (a nerdy, yet crucial accountancy innovation), earlier involvement of back-to-work companies and payment for results. But I had expected more, seeing how fundamentally the (un)employment market has changed in Britain. So what did I expect? Well, three weeks ago, Pete Hoskin and I were taken in for a briefing by IDS on Dynamic Benefit modelling (report here) . My jaw dropped. I was hugely excited – I saw a system that could finally smash the benefit  trap that has kept so many millions of British people on benefits and in poverty through the boom. A new Universal Benefit that would merge 52 benefits into one. A new system, devoted to a worm’s eye view of benefits – ensuring everyone, at every point in the welfare/salary scale, would be better of if they worked more. The IDS report was a clean break. A new way of seeing welfare – finally, the unheavel that is needed to liberate those we currently ensnare in the name of compassion. I was enthused and wrote a cover piece on it.

I’d like to think that Cameron shared IDS' ambition. Instead, what we saw today is just the jazzed up the original Freud review (without the help of the civil servants that Freud had the first time around). It’s good, it’s solid, it’s welcome – but it leaves me with the feeling that root-and-branch welfare reform has again been decided a battle for another year – or decade. I hope that Cameron will prove me wrong.