IDS welfare reforms won’t provide the support needed to escape poverty

Ian Duncan Smith’s first speech as work and pensions secretary, was an impassioned call to eradicate poverty, primarily by improving work incentives.

Ian Duncan Smith’s first speech as work and pensions secretary, delivered this morning, was an impassioned call to eradicate poverty, primarily by improving work incentives. This takes forward Mr Duncan Smith’s previous work at the Centre for Social Justice on reducing marginal tax rates and simplifying the benefits system to make it absolutely clear that people will be better off in work.

His speech also developed the Coalition Government’s plans to replace existing welfare to work programmes with a single ‘Work Programme’. He is right that the benefits system is too complex; that marginal tax rates (although reduced by the previous government) are still too high for some; and that a single welfare to work programme could be better at delivering more tailored employment support.

However, in focusing exclusively on benefit reform and changes to welfare to work, his speech completely ignored the economic reality that many workless people face every day. In many parts of the country, the jobs simply are not there, and if they are, they are too often low-paid, low-skilled, short-term, not particularly rewarding and lacking progression opportunities.

Only talking about benefits, work incentives and employment support assumes that the problem lies only with the people who are out of work. This certainly isn’t true now, when soaring unemployment rates are clearly due to recession; but it is unlikely to offer a full explanation for the high levels of worklessness that plagued parts of the UK before the recession.

There is plenty of research to suggest that the decision to take on work is shaped by the opportunities people see in their local area, as well as their qualifications and aspirations or the knowledge they will financially better off. There is much that government could do, in partnership with others, to improve the availability of decently paid, rewarding jobs in deprived communities, but this was completely lacking from Mr Duncan Smith’s speech.

The Coalition Government is claiming its plans amount to a radical programme for welfare reform. In truth, they are largely a continuation of many of Labour’s reforms – but with one important exception. When the recession hit, the Labour government moved quickly to adapt its thinking and instead of keeping all its eggs in the basket of welfare and benefit reform, it invented the Future Jobs Fund – the first attempt in recent years to guarantee that real jobs would be available.

This was a truly radical approach to tackling worklessness. But the Coalition has cancelled any further job creation under the Future Jobs Fund, in the name of efficiency savings. This suggests that Duncan Smith is returning to a pre-recession fixation with benefit reform and welfare to work, with little consideration of what is actually happening in the labour market.

It is heartening to see a Conservative work and pensions secretary with so much genuine passion for tackling poverty and improving the life chances of people who so often get left behind; but unless he learns the lessons of the last decade of welfare reform, Mr Duncan Smith risks creating an increasingly punitive system that doesn’t reflect people’s real experiences and is therefore not capable of providing them with all the support they need to escape poverty.

14 Responses to “IDS welfare reforms won’t provide the support needed to escape poverty”

  1. Chris Goulden

    RT @leftfootfwd IDS welfare reforms won't provide the support needed to escape poverty: http://bit.ly/9np6yC

  2. David Taylor

    RT @leftfootfwd: IDS welfare reforms won't provide support needed to escape poverty: http://bit.ly/9np6yC > balanced arguement v.interesting

  3. John Green

    Earlier today I listened to the lovely Yvette Cooper on BBC television, commenting on Iain Duncan Smith’s proposals for Welfare Reform. Like the other four of five ex-Labour ministers I have listened to this week, tasked with the same challenge to comment on their opposite members policies, she claimed that Labour was “about to introduce all of these reforms”.

    Do I detect a theme emerging?

    So, were the thirteen years of mendacity, sleaze and incompetence simply a rehearsal for finally getting it right?

  4. mike

    Oh when oh when are our great leaders in the Party

    stop tweeting about themselves and get on in laying into this disaster of a Tory Lib Government

    come on

    Calling all labour MPs SOS Save our Services get stuck in NOW

  5. mike

    Any candidate for LP leader who didnt help in Thirsk By election should be automatically ruled out

  6. John Green

    Dear Miss Lawton,

    Can I suggest that you read and inwardly digest the papers published by Iain Duncan Smith and his research group in order to gain a better understanding of the issues involved in this difficult and intractable problem.

    Meanwhile, I will add just a couple of comments on your article.

    It is not IDS’s brief to provide more job opportunities. This will be tackled by the coalition government as outlined in the proposals to deal with the horrific legacy left after thirteen years of Labour incompetence.

    The sad reality is that there are families in this country in which not a single family member has worked for three or more generations, despite unfilled vacancies in their locality. There are other families in which working members also apply for and obtain benefits for which they are not entitled.

    This situation cannot be tolerated, even during the times of economic strength. Thanks to the regressive policies of the last government we have been taken back, in economic terms, to the 1940s. I remember the 1940s, I was there. Ahead of us we have the 1950s. These were grim, gray and austere years. We will not enjoy them. During these times we must deal with the scroungers who act as a brake on the economy. If we are successful, we may lift them out of the poverty trap into which they have put themselves.

  7. trevmax

    “In many parts of the country, the jobs simply are not there, and if they are, they are too often low-paid, low-skilled, short-term, not particularly rewarding and lacking progression opportunities”

    ahhh, lambs!

  8. joe fd

    Hi Kayte
    Could you add some reference links to your blog?
    There does seem to be some resonance – anecdotally at least – in the argument that work incentives are weak for some groups. Is this a fair criticism? It was obviously a concern on the doorstep in some areas that some people in society are not contributing. You’re more expert than me but I get the feeling we lost momentum on welfare reform in some way – is that fair? By all means lay into IDS but we also need to look at what we should have done differently.
    New Labour had a strong story for the New Deal at the start – in fact Blair was banging on about ending the poverty traps, breaking the cycle of worklessness in places like Easington and marrying rights with responsibilities way before 97. But now everyone seems to have forgotten it and the Tories have been able to take over that story. Labour ended up vilified by both sides – those concerned about welfare poverty and the stigmatisation of the unemployed/ sick, and also those who felt their neighbours were not contributing to society. Just the media’s fault, or something we need to re-address?

  9. Mr. Sensible

    I would like to know where on Earth the Tories think the jobs are?

    The fact is they are going for a slash and burn approach to our public services, at the same time as halving Labour’s target for higher education places.

    Lots of rhetoric, no substance.

  10. Mr. Sensible

    I mentioned yesterday the nonsensical suggestion by the rep from the non-taxpayer’s alliance on the Tony Livesy show.

    Why should employers be seen as stepping stones?

  11. Indus Delta

    RT @leftfootfwd: IDS welfare reforms won't provide the support needed to escape poverty: http://bit.ly/9np6yC

  12. trevmax

    there is not some fixed pool of jobs. as some of the 5.5 million out of work move into work, they themselves create demand. if there were not benefits there would be nor unemployment. people would just keep undercutting each other to eat, clothe and shelter themselves.

  13. Look Left – The Week in Fast Forward | Left Foot Forward

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