Basically, the ST story claims that "senior Tories" are planning to move around 1.5 million people who claim incapacity benefit (IB) on to jobseeker's allowance (JSA) within a year of taking office. Hence the big leap in jobless figures, from what will be around 3 million, up to 4 million. It's unclear whether this is the anticipated result of existing Tory welfare policy (e.g. their more extensive 'work capability assessments'), or whether they have more policy announcements up their sleeves. But, either way, it's the first time I've seen that ambitious 1.5 million figure.
This is important. One of the most dispiriting trends in British politics began during the Thatcher era: moving claimants from JSA to IB, to hide the full extent of the nation's unemployment. And this has continued apace during the New Labour years, until there are now around 2.4 million IB claimants - and plenty of those are long-term claimants, with little hope or expectation of getting back into the labour market. I'm sure many of the claims are legitimate, but there are tell-tale signs that there's an artificial element to the IB rolls. For instance, the number of under-25s claiming IB has gone up by 52 percent since 1997.
Anything which deals with this systemic problem is welcome - and, it should be said, some progress has been made since the Employment and Support Allowance reforms implemented by James Purnell (see UPDATE below). Not only would is it more honest of the government to stop the politically-motivated practice of shifting people off JSA on to IB, but it also brings thousands of people closer to the labour market, into the kind of workfare schemes which are more likely to see them permanently employed. Good for the economy, of course. But good, too, for the life chances of people previously stuck in a welfare rut for the sake of a statistical fiddle.
Perhaps most encouraging for Tory supporters are the signs that the party are willing to take on Gordon Brown over this. You can just bet that Brown will spin this as some kind of cruel Bullingdon plot to increase the numbers of unemployed people. But a Tory source tells the Sunday Times that they will "begin a campaign [on this] in September". It's crucial that they do so. If our country's to stage anything like a decent recovery, then a lot will rest on the successful implementation of welfare reform. And that, in turn, will require a good deal of public support for the measures.