We need a welfare state that is fit for the 21st century. We need to redesign it away from a post war vision of a very different society to what we live in today. There are gaps in the welfare state through which people fall because it’s not personalized enough. It is of great concern to me that for too long we appear to have been suffering from the inverse care law—the more you need, the less you are likely to get.
What worries me about some of the language around welfare reform at the moment is the idea that people on benefits are enjoying a nice lifestyle paid for by the taxpayer. They’re not. We need to get away from a punitive element in welfare reform that believes that if you treat people harshly, that will improve their ability to move up the ladder.
I have always argued that the welfare state should be about providing a step up for people.
The Community Allowance would create a step up for people and some of the poorest places in the UK, which have seen a lack of change over the last 10-20 years. If you are born in a place with high crime, low educational outcomes and poor health, there is an expectation that you will die under the same circumstances.
In my work on the Aylesbury estate in south London I realized one of the problems on estates like this is that the myth becomes the reality, and anyone from the estate could be written off.
The Community Allowance would create job opportunities for people in areas like Aylesbury. The jobs would simultaneously benefit the community and enable the individual to take small manageable steps towards sustainable employment. The New Economics Foundation’s recent work showing the Social Return on Investment of the Community Allowance clearly shows the economic argument for this.
And yet small organisations dedicated to delivering welfare-to-work services in disadvantaged areas will struggle to win contracts to deliver the Flexible New Deal and other areas of the welfare to work agenda because there is no mechanism to recognise and reward the work they do. Although some people are ready to get straight back to full-time work, for others this would be too great a leap. It wouldn’t work for employers, and would be likely to push people back into drugs and crime. This approach threatens to raise the cost to the public purse in the long-term, not only through benefits but also through other health, social care and criminal justice costs.
There needs to be a mechanism to reward the work that is done to prepare those most in need of the support to get work, rather than just job entries. It must not just be about getting people into a job, but also about measuring the progress people have made towards getting into work. That distance travelled can be measured and must be. The Community Allowance could provide an ideal first step up onto the ladder of progress and opportunities for people who have been out of work for a long time, cycling on and off benefits.
Real life involves people failing and going around the cycle of trying to improve their lives on more than one occasion. A civilized society allows for that to happen.
Lord Victor Adebowale, Chief Executive, Turning Point