Welfare Reform Bill is on the right track, but it won’t get the job done

There’s been an awful lot of handwringing over the Welfare Reform Bill and the ‘benefits cap’ in particular. However, most of the bill is on the right track, although it’s only one part of the bigger picture.

The Benefits Cap

The benefits cap is clearly illogical and wrong (see why here) even if relatively few people will be affected (that still doesn’t make it right).

The bigger problem is that it’s allowed the Sun, The Express and the Mail to have a field day painting all benefits claimants as scroungers. These assumptions, which the government knowingly does nothing to  dispel need fighting more strongly than the cap itself. (See this article from Ekklesia)


The welfare system needs serious reform:

  • It encourages dependency;
  • It’s so hideously complex it makes the Schleswig-Holstein question look straightforward; and
  • There are too many people on the wrong benefit.

Dependency: economic and cultural

Part of the dependency issue is economic. The transition to work under the current system is inherently financially risky. Many people are faced with the chance of temporary work which will make them £10-£20 a week better off. Their desire for dignity and work says take it.

The prospect of going 3-6 weeks without money when the work ends whilst waiting for a perverse job centre bureaucracy staffed by undertrained and underpaid workers means that no intelligent rational economic actor would take the risk. Factor in the fact that many unscrupulous employers don’t pay up on time at the end of the first month and travel costs to and from employment and taking work can seem like economic suicide.

The Welfare Reform Bill in the shape of the Universal Credit does its best to address this and it should be a vast improvement and simplification on the current mess.

But the other part of dependency is cultural. It may have been Thatcher’s fault for pushing millions onto incapacity benefit in the first place but Labour didn’t have the guts to challenge the assumption of a significant minority (no, don’t get too excited Paul Dacre, not everyone) that they would live the rest of their lives on benefits.


I’m not prepared to give up on people that easily. Everyone has gifts and skills that they can contribute to society even if they don’t know what those gifts and skills are themselves.

Sometimes we have do people’s believing for them until they rediscover their own self worth.

Messages without judgment

The government does need to send clear messages that everyone is expected to give themselves the best opportunity for work, but without raining down judgement.

The small group that will never be able to work again in any area should receive our generous support. The majority who have the capacity to do some form of work at some point in the future should be given our generous support in providing the help they need to move them back towards work. If that support is genuinely offered then yes, people’s benefits should be temporarily stopped.

And thank goodness that the Job Centre is contracting out this support work to private companies and charities. No, they won’t all be successful and a few will be awful, but the DWP’s inability to treat people as individuals, each needing different help has been proven again and again.

The Bigger Picture, George

 The thrust of the Welfare Reform Bill does deal with the economic roots of dependency and we shouldn’t forget it. Of course, reforming the welfare system is only a quarter of  the job and we shouldn’t forget that either.

It’s over to George Osborne to create the environment for good quality, decently paid jobs for those out of work to take up.

It’s over to the rest of us to create those jobs and a positive, accepting culture which eases the stigmatisation of worklessness and the transition back into gainful employment.

7 thoughts on “Welfare Reform Bill is on the right track, but it won’t get the job done”

  1. Fair technical points about the system. But aren’t you doing exactly what the government want? Focussing on benefit reform when there 7 and 16 people chasing every supposed job vacancy? No matter how well designed the system, there are NO JOBS.

    All the talk of benefit reform is a deliberate, typically Tory and evil attempt to blame the victims rather than the perpetrators. The Tories want us all to talk about the benefits system and the poor as though they are the problem. They don’t want us to talk about the Tory/LibDem mismanagement of the economy, the lack of jobs and their tax-dodging friends in the immorally wealthy elite who intend to profit massively from an even more frightened and subservient working class. For the Tories, recession and deficit are just a convenience and benefits reform is a smokescreen for them to increase inequality. Why would you want to play their game?


  2. “All the talk of benefit reform is a deliberate, typically Tory and evil attempt to blame the victims rather than the perpetrators. The Tories want us all to talk about the benefits system and the poor as though they are the problem.”

    I don’t think you are right here Chris. I think the benefits cap is illogical and its crazy not to have geographical differentials built in – but the benefits system has to change. Its not ‘anti-poor’ to state this – the system has created dependency which needs to be understood and dismantled. Doing this will be painful and hard but it has to be done.

    I think its too easy to say its an ‘evil Tory plot’ – although I am a member of the Labour Party, I actually think that Iain Duncan Smith has got a lot right about this analysis of both the structural failures of welfare and also the need to focus on issues of worklessness and the family.

    I think Jon Chilvers’ article gets a balance which is lost when commentators stray too far from the front line of these issues and think that high levels of welfare payments simply need defending. Dependency ruins lives – it needs challenging with new, fresh approaches. But of course, at the same time we need to argue for fairer pay, more jobs, better equality. For me the two go hand in hand.


  3. I guess there’s other forms of dependency: private banks dependent on being underwritten by the state, the UK economy being dependent on financial services, the rich being dependent on cheap immigrant labour, big business being dependent on tax loopholes, all of us dependending on cheap imports and cheap energy. I don’t see any of the parties being keen to do anything about those things which also big problems.

    Instead they focus on the poor being dependent on benefits just at the time it matters least, since there aren’t any jobs anyway. Fixing the benefit system won’t create a single job. (Why take a chance on the long-term unemployed or disabled when there are 10 other risk-free candidates all willing to do the job for rock-bottom wages?)

    But making some scapegoats suffer will always be popular, and if anyone’s conscience is troubled too much then people like IDS can make it sound like it’s somehow for their own moral good, in his preachy, Victorian way.


    1. Thanks Chris. I agree with the damaging affects of all the other dependencies that you list. I think we need to be resisting them too and arguing against them. But that does not mean that the benefits system should be exempt from being reformed and changed.

      From my experience, some forms of benefits and the culture they help create do ruin lives. Housing Benefit for example has disincentivised thousands of people from working because its a ridiculous system which in effect creates a 65% tax on returning to work. It thas meant that some large hostels create drink and drug addictions among their residents because there is no way that people can work. It creates a deadly dependency which is completely the opposite of what many hostels were originally designed for – which was for working men.


  4. Another good blog Jon.
    I’m well up for the reform – and hope they are able to go for bold reform. If they don’t get it right straight away (and they won’t) then it’s ok to tweak and fix it, but I am concerned how many times this government seems to have to make compromises (or u-turns) leaving us without any progress.
    Regarding the comments above about providing jobs, I do wonder where the British entrepreneurial spirit has gone. We are now a culture where the benefits and jobs are just an entitlement of a system. What happened to creating this stuff in the first place? (I like to think that I would be entrepreneurial if I came across hard times!)
    And just for the record, I agree “The small group that will never be able to work again in any area should receive our generous support.” Tough one to get right!


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