The Condition of Britain report lives up to the hype

Labour and IPPR's Condition of Britain report is practical, well thought through, implementable and costed.

Labour and IPPR’s Condition of Britain report is practical, well thought through, implementable and costed

The Cruddas Policy Review will comprise three core documents: the Adonis growth review, The Local Government Innovation Task Force Final Report and the IPPR’s Condition of Britain.

The latter is the first to be published today. These documents will overlap but each, in turn, focuses on jobs, place and family. If the Condition of Britain is anything to go by, Cruddas has pulled off an exceptionally strong policy review.

There has been quite a bit of hyperbole surrounding this document but it’s much better than the hyperbole might suggest. It’s actually a practical, well thought through, implementable, and costed take on how the welfare state could be improved to further promote work, support families, re-habilitate offenders, help people manage debt and help support older people to sustain their quality of life.

This is of far more use to Labour at this stage than a grand historical document.

The Condition of Britain contains some good institution innovations and a degree of devolution in these proposals. There is a very smart redirection of resources within the welfare state to help rebuild the legitimacy of the system: expanding childcare, house-building, and pathways/incentives into work are the focus.

If this programme were to be implemented in the next Parliament, Britain would be more civilised and less anxious – given a fair wind in a risk-laden world. It feels like the careful reformism of the last Government and that is no bad thing perhaps.

Sometimes the report goes for small but symbolic measures such as one free course of counselling for couples. This is repeating some of the bad habits of the last Government. Here’s a problem (marriage breakdown), let’s fire an initiative at it and see what happens. What happens is you end up with a messy and confusing series of entitlements that are little used and probably have little impact anyway.

The proposal to merge young people’s benefit into a single job allowance to support training and work is the opposite approach – it provides certainty and real support and feels like the right intervention as a consequence.

There is now a big strategic question for the Labour leadership. There is little doubt that in a benign context they would want to do all or most of what is in this report. The proposals are all costed and fiscally neutral. However, we are not in a fiscally neutral context. Labour is committed to real cuts in the next Parliament (or tax increases).

The risk is that if you spread the state into new functions whilst cutting. This would spread the state more thinly. You could end up doing more, less well.

So Labour’s big challenge is whether it should increase taxation rather than cut services. If it is to do so then it will have to justify the new interventions that it will be making in that context. There is a price tag (even if a devolved, ‘relational’ state were to innovate better than the current state).

So the Condition of Britain, whilst reformist and well-calibrated, poses a tricky strategic question. The public aren’t even in this conversation currently. And we haven’t even talked about the NHS which will have first claim on any additional tax revenue that might be raised.

This is a strategic question of leadership for Labour: what should the state do and what should it not? And how are we going to pay for it?

Anthony Painter is a contributing editor to Progress and was previously director of the Independent Review of the Police Federation

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