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The world beyond West Lancashire

Hopi dismantles Conservative doublespeak on ‘welfare reform’, but gets earful from me anyway

12.16.08 | Comment?

Hopi Sen’s done a very interesting post which does a marvellous job of ‘doing detail’ – the kind of post I love – and thereby showing up the total inconsistencies of the Conservatives (in the shape of David Cameron) over ‘welfare reform’.  Cameron wants to look tough, then the wants to look compassionate, then he wants to look anything that looks like it’s opposed to Labour and then… well I’ve really no idea how his minds works.  Go look at Hopi’s post.

In the process of the post, though Hopi does offer a good deal of praise for the White Paper, which I’ve criticised at utterly tedious length here.  So I wrote a longer-than-your-average-comment’ comment on Hopi’sblog, which I can’t be bothered to adjust to make it look like a fresh post of my own, what with the time being the time it is. 

So I’ve copied it in below.  I should howeverstop off on the way to getting back to earning a living to say thanks to Don Paskini (who also has grave reservations about the White Paper) for suggesting in his comment to me I focus some energy on suggesting amendments to be put to MPs willing to listen; I’ve suggested as much to Hopi, who I think works in the ‘corridors of power’ (though not sure where) and will also do my level best to put my views (and by extension Don P’s) the way of other top policy wonks etc. 

Anyway, here’s what I said to Hopi:

Hopi

I think you do an excellent job of setting out the Conservatives total inconsistency on this matter, and that is a matter for praise in itself. To allow these inconsistencies would, conversely, be doing people no good at all.

However, I do not think that Conservative inconsistency means that overall approval for the White Paper is warranted.

I am not a Purnell-basher for the sake of Purnell-bashing, as is now fasionable; he is merely the latest on a line of ‘rights and resposiblities’ communitarian thinkers (whether or not he thinks about this), and I think the motives behind the proposals are reasonable, even laudable. I am quite happy with the now well-established view, based on decent research evidence, that there is a close link between enduring worklessness and social exclusion, and that (conversely) getting people into work is, for a lot of them and their families, a very good thing indeed.

But many of the proposals in the White Paper and the accompanying Gregg report will not be implemented in the form they are set out in the White Paper, and will lead to a culture of sanction, an impression of punishment and further social exclusion for a significant number of people.

Specifically in terms of the ‘work-related activity group’ that you refer to, in reference to childcare, I think it is overly optimistic to suggest that no-one with children 1-7 years will be ‘pushed’ against their will to work before they and their children are ready. Quite aside from the implementation-on-the-ground issues (see below), logic dictates (and will end up in performance targets) that advisers will want claimants to go into work; why otherwise would childcare options be part of the work-related activity requirement, when the childcare need is removed at the age of 4 anyway when the child goes to school (other than breakfast club/afterschool care, over which parents mostly exercise no ‘option’ anyway because it’s linked to the school or another nearby venue anyway and there’s little choice to be had).

In more general terms, my negative view of what the White Paper will bring is based on research into US attempts to bring in not dissimilar approaches, of the type you mention, where the policy has been one thing, the implementation has been quite another. I have posted about it at length and in some details at my place, if you’re interested,but basically I fear very much that the way a downtrodden lower civil service will implement the policies will be by sidelining the personalisation, and upping the threat of sanctions. That’s not a criticism of them, it’s just the way research shows it happens.

Lastly, you are definitely not an idiot. you are a clever and I have no doubt a good person. But I’d ask you to look beyond the world of policy formation towards the world of policy implementation in Job Centres up and down the land, and I think you may take a different view – one that will, I hope, have you looking to see what amendments can be brought to what will otherwise well-intentioned but in the end, poorly researched (and by the Conservatives, probably largely unread) bill if their reaction the White Paper is anything to go by.

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