We need to change the terms of the welfare debate

While financial prudence is vital if Labour is to win power, we cannot put it before compassion.

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While financial prudence is vital if Labour is to win power, we cannot put it before compassion

When he arrived at DWP headquarters in 2010, Iain Duncan Smith made clear his desire to radically reform the welfare state to simplify the system, support people into work and reduce the amount spent on the benefits bill.

Laudable aims and, according to polling and Conservative commentators, just the kind of bread and butter issue that David Cameron should be talking more about if the Tories are to address their UKIP problem.

The fact remains, however, that much of the current government’s welfare policies, far from being a triumph, have amounted to an illusion with the chief magician Iain Duncan Smith simply failing to accept reality that his policies are hurting but not working.

Last month, the Major Projects Authority published its annual report in which it was forced to classify the ailing Universal Credit scheme as a completely new project owing to the difficulties and substantial delays in delivering this flagship policy.

In March, it was reported that just 48,000 people have found long-term jobs under the government’s work programme during its near three-year life – despite the hyperbole from ministers that it would support millions into work. Almost 20 per cent of 16-24 year olds meanwhile are out of work or education.

And ministers themselves have admitted that ATOS, the now infamous contractor charged with carrying out work capability assessments for the Employment and Support Allowance, has developed a backlog of over 700,000 cases. The only question is why it took the DWP so long to realise what a poor job it was doing before deciding to end its contract with them.

What makes it worse is the failure of ministers to take any responsibility for the disastrous impacts on communities up and down the country of their policies.

It was Thatcher who declared that there was “no such thing as society”, and sure enough IDS is presiding over policies that in many cases are tearing the fabric of society apart.

One only has to look at the alarming rising in the use of food banks.

As a country, we sit around the G7 table of the richest countries in the world, but as David Cameron discusses ways in which the country could become even richer through greater trade, back home, last year the Trussell Trust reported that 913,138 people were given three days of emergency food and support in 2013-14. This figure is up from the 61,468 in the year that this government came to power.

If society is judged by how it treats its poorest, what does it say about this country that almost a million people are having to rely on food parcels from volunteers? What does it say about David Cameron’s unique brand of ‘compassionate conservatism’?

And the response to all of this? Today we learn that people close to the work and pensions secretary have been threatening the Trussell Trust over its high profile work to highlight the injustices of the country’s growing reliance on food banks.

While financial prudence is vital if Labour is to get in to power, we cannot put it before compassion. Let’s put people before money and decide what kind of society we want to build and encourage, then do the maths to make that happen.

7 Responses to “We need to change the terms of the welfare debate”

  1. Ian Graham

    I’m all for compassion, but the point is even starker than that: it is about human rights, citizens’ rights, and effective social policies.
    I am the secretary of a small independent foodbank. On the evidence I see week after week, it is hard to resist the conclusion that the employment service/welfare system is being used as a means of deliberate oppression and destabilisation of those Beveridge would have seen as needing (and having a right to ) support.
    One sample indicator: the frequency with which changes in circumstances affecting benefit entitlement (and not least the way the system itself ping-pongs people between JSA and ESA) are associated with temporary cessation of payment, sometimes for weeks at a time. I don’t believe the bureaucrats couldn’t simply maintain payments and adjust restrospectively as necessary – credit cards and utility companies manage that sort of flexibility. It looks like deliberate policy.
    We are creating an outcast group who have no stake in ‘straight society’ as most of us know it, people who have not a single lever within their grasp to better their conditions.

  2. blarg1987

    It is interesting to note that ATOS and the DWP both deny there are any targets being set with regards to getting people of certain entitlements.

    I think what would be a good idea might be an organisation to set up a legal fund to (no doubt when the chickens come home to roost) chase after those individuals who claim there were no targets when they knew there were and so were misleading the tax paying public.

  3. blarg1987

    It is interesting to note that ATOS and the DWP both deny there are any targets being set with regards to getting people of certain entitlements.

    I think what would be a good idea might be an organisation to set up a legal fund to (no doubt when the chickens come home to roost) chase after those individuals who claim there were no targets when they knew there were and so were misleading the tax paying public.

  4. Leon Wolfeson

    “I don’t believe the bureaucrats couldn’t simply
    maintain payments and adjust retrospectively”

    The system is not set up to allow it. This is supposedly what UC is supposed to fix.

    Hey, stop laughing. No, really. the coalition will save…ah heck; *laughs at IDS*
    (It’s not like it wasn’t predicted either…it’s so funny-ohshit…)

    To be fair, some councils are terrible at handling HB and variable incomes – mostly because they underfund handling it.

  5. Ian Duncan

    This:

    “And ministers themselves have admitted that ATOS, the now infamous
    contractor charged with carrying out work capability assessments for the
    Employment and Support Allowance”

    Labour introduced us to Atos, a bit disingenuous of you not to say so. Atos are at least partially responsible for deaths and distress and so far I’ve not seen anything to suggest that the ‘even tougher on welfare’ Labour party would be any better. Miliband is to timid to upset the Tories and he constantly concedes the terms of ht debate to the Conservatives…

  6. swatnan

    ‘IDS, IDS, how many kids did you kill today’, the words may be slightly different but sentiments the same.

  7. colin morris

    lets be fair here the last 3 lines sum the situation up correctly the welfare state is crucial to any advanced society as ours is and like all foundations nreeds reforms to for it to progress but this tory goverment are not reforming at all they are dissmantling it if you are dissabled but have a pulse you are seen as fit to work js have so many hoops to jump through its work of art not to be sanctioned their are 4mill ppl chasing 1mil jobs of wich most are part time or 0h contracts their iss no genuine support its all about figures and the idealogy egos of the ppl in the DWP it is an attack on the most vulnerable ppl in our society that isnt even cost affective and worse the human suffering is immeasurable and if this is modern coservatism with a christian approach to welfare i frankly want no part of it when oxfam are slammed for stating the bloody obvious about poverty you know goverment have got it wrong and oxfam the experts have got it spot onl

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