I’ve just finished a 45-minute BBC Five Live phone-in with Richard Bacon about Cameron’s welfare reform – me in favour and Lisa Harker from the IPPR (ex DWP) against. I had expected it to be a flak-taking exercise, and perhaps it would have been had it been a Westminster discussion. But most of the callers were very supportive of the Tory proposals. There was a guy who had been on Jobseekers Allowance for months who applauded Cameron’s workfare idea – ie, demand people work for their dole. It makes you feel you’ve earned something, he said. Another text said “I work six nights a week for my family, no one else’s”. Another called to denounce the idea that the state owes anyone a living. Ten years ago, Blair failed to reform welfare mainly because people felt there were not enough jobs for those denied it. Mass immigration has given the lie to this.
This has become a major issue in the real world. I once had a letter from a News of the World reader who told me how he works all the hours God sends and can’t afford to take his family for the holidays which the welfare-dependent family next door to him takes. He felt robbed. And little wonder, when a minimum-wage family with two kids is only £30 a week better off in work than on welfare. Cameron made his case today on compassion, and rightly so. But he is also tapping into a deep sense of injustice out there. Played correctly, his welfare reform proposal could be a real vote winner.