Tag Archives: Conservative Party

IDS is Smiling in his dream job, will he help us create more dream jobs?

The Independent On Sunday claims that Iain Duncan Smith has the broadest smile in Downing Street this week, having started his dream job of Work and Pensions Secretary. We see his appointment as a real boost for the Community Allowance campaign. His work in developing the Centre for Social Justice and its role in highlighting the benefits trap highlight many areas of  real agreement on the problems with the benefit system and what needs to be changed. The Centre for Social Justice’s report on benefits – Dynamic Benefits: Towards Welfare that Works, also give us some idea of  the approach that IDS may take in the coming months and we have found some things to smile about too.

We have argued strongly that the benefit system should provide a step up for people and not act as a trap. Yet many recent discussions of welfare reform have been dominated by plans to increase compulsion and threats to withdraw benefits for non-compliance. We have demonstrated time and time again that it is the benefit system that is at fault not the people claiming benefits (see this short film if you would like to hear more). The Centre for Social Justice have also concluded  “For many, the answer to unsustainable welfare bills is to introduce ever tighter rules for receipt of benefits, and to cut generosity for some claimants. However, this approach has never worked. it is not the particular levels and conditions that are at fault, but the structure of the system itself.”

We have also long campaigned for the role of part-time work to be recognised as a positive and valuable opportunity for people currently claiming benefits. We have asked for changes to be made to the earning disregard to enable people to take on part-time jobs and actually be better off. The Dynamic Benefits Report recognises the importance of part-time work and how the current system prevents people taking up job opportunities “For many carers, a low-hours job is all they can take on; and for others an entry-level job represents a stepping stone to higher-earning employment. yet, virtually all initial efforts to work are penalized“. The report recommends a radical change to the earning disregard to support people to take up part-time work.

The Independant on Sunday article also concluded that raising the earning disregard and allowing people to work part-time was a “no-brainer” but was concerned there would be no demand by employers for people who were on benefits. We know that part of the answer lies within local communities where we can offer  part-time jobs with training and support but also make a real difference to the local community – by ensuring the jobs have a local benefit, making a real difference to local community and to the tax payer  – as every £1 spent on the Community Allowance results in £10 worth of social value being created.  We estimated that at least 80 part-time jobs could be created in every neighbourhood through a Community Allowance – providing stepping stones on the pathway to work for thousands of benefits claimants across the country. Over 100 local community organisations have signed up to support the Community Allowance. Over 70 organisations have expressed an interest in being involved in piloted the Community Allowance in their local communities. The Dynamic Benefit Report also recognised the core role that the voluntary sector and local communities can play.

Last week Oxfam thrown its weight behind the campaign for the Community Allowance. We are now writing to IDS to ask for a meeting, hoping his understand of the benefit trap and what can be achieve by local communities will finally enable the benefit system to provide a step up for people and places. To find our more about the Community Allowance  and add your support to the campaign please visit our website at http://www.communityallowance.org/

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Guest Blog – Will Hutton

Over the next two or three years unemployment is going to climb to three million, and the likelihood is that it will fall only very slowly afterwards. There is a risk it could rise even higher if the Conservative party is as serious about cutting the budget deficit as quickly and as deeply as it says. Worse unemployment disproportionately hits disadvantaged communities most.

This is a calamity. There is a famous study of what happened in the village of Marienthal, not far from Vienna, when the main factory shut its gates in the depression of the early 1930s. The unemployed  do not tend to take up the violin, read more books, or enjoy quality time with their families. Indeed, researchers found that although people had enough to eat, use of the library dropped by a third, clubs closed down and wives complained that formerly energetic men took extraordinary amounts of time to accomplish simple tasks. People stood on street corners, waiting. Time weighed heavy but people talked to each other less.

The reason, argued the psychologist Marie Jahoda whose 1980s research is still pathbreaking , is  that work provides people with a fundamental “sense of reality”, which can not be obtained through any other activity or institution. Employment of any kind has a number of key benefits. It gives structure to the day; it compels contact and shared experience with others; it demonstrates goals and purpose beyond the individual; it gives status; it forces people to be active. Take those away and people quickly became dysfunctional.

Jahoda returned to her theme in the very different period of high unemployment in the UK during the 1980s. The poverty in question was now relative rather than absolute but she argued that purposelessness loomed as large as ever. The phrases used to describe the feelings were the same: on the scrapheap, useless, not needed by anybody. The loss of work followed by prolonged joblessness entailed a sequence of psychological states – fear and distress, resignation, adaptation, and finally, if unsuccessful in the search for work, blank apathy and withdrawal. The psychological need for work goes deep.

Hard Labour, a paper I recently co-wrote with colleagues from The Work Foundation, sets out today’s evidence  on the health affects of unemployment.

  • There is a positive association between mortality and unemployment for all age groups, with suicide increasing within a year of job loss.
  • Cardiovascular mortality accelerates after 2 or 3 years, continuing for the next 10–15 years.
  • There is an estimated 20 per cent excess risk of death for both men actively seeking work and their wives, with the possibility that this may be higher still in areas of higher unemployment.
  • Upon re-employment there appears to be a reversal of these effects. While the direction of causality is difficult to determine unemployment is considered to be a significant cause of psychological distress in itself.
  • Studies indicated a positive association between unemployed people and a higher  prevalence of common mental disorders.
  • Those with a more negative outlook on life tend to be more damaged by unemployment while those who are unemployed but have more positive and goal-oriented outlooks fare better.

In the light of the unemployment calamity about to hit the country we have to be as flexible and imaginative as we possibly can about engaging people with work any which we way we can – and we must recognise the fears of those on Incapacity Benefit especially who believe that if they show the slightest ability to work it will be understood as a complete ability to work . I strongly support the Community Allowance. It could improve the well-being of hundreds of thousands of people – and improve the look and feel of our communities.

Will Hutton

And they’re off

Just over a week since Gordon Brown called the General Election for 6th May and all three major English political parties have now launched their manifestos. So we thought we’d reflect on the different approaches to welfare reform  each party presents.

First off, Labour and A Future Fair for All. Welfare is up front in the headlines of the ‘tough choices’ that an incoming Labour government would have to make:

“Tough choices on welfare: our reforms will increase fairness and work incentives, including £1.5 billion of savings being delivered.”

Those savings are projected to be made primarily from the transfer of the last remaining 1.5 million people who are still on Incapacity Benefit onto either Job Seekers Allowance (and from there, they hope back into work) or Employment and Support Allowance. The manifesto talks about the ‘tough-but-fair’ Work Capability Assessment that will facilitate this process. Evidence emerging from many disabled people’s charities points to a contrary experience, that it is not fair to those with disabilities who perhaps would most benefit from the support available on the Employment and Support Allowance.

There is a continued commitment to the Future Jobs Fund, a temporary measure designed to provide 6 month paid work experience for unemployed young people. That it is paid work experience is to be welcomed, that it is costing the tax payer £1 billion for such a short term solution to a long term problem is perhaps not.

Worryingly it also states that, “All those who are long term unemployed for two years will be guaranteed a job placement, which they will be required to take up or have their benefits cut.” I imagine people on JSA would be delighted at the prospect of a guarantee of a job if they have endured two years of unemployment. What isn’t clear from the manifesto is if this ‘job placement’ is paid, or whether an individual who has suffered the indignity of long term unemployment is then required to work for their benefit, a policy we wholeheartedly oppose.

What the manifesto lacks, is any commitment to reviewing the benefits system itself. As with all parties that have held office for some time, it’s difficult for Labour to critique a system it has been running for so many years. And yet the benefits system needs a fundamental overhaul, a complete review and redesign to make it fit for the 21st century. This lack of vision on the part of Labour may cost them much needed votes.

And so onto the Tories and their invitation for us to join government.

Unsurprisingly, their manifesto commitments around the benefits system read much like the Labour Party’s. This is because both parties have been advised by Lord Freud, who stopped advising James Purnell MP, former Secretary of State for DWP, to take his plans to the Conservative Party back in February 2009.

What seems out of place with Conservative policy amongst Freud’s plans for welfare reform is the continued commitment to introduce Work for your Benefit, mandatory community work placements for the long term unemployed. Already being piloted by the Labour government, this initiative flies in the face of the Tories’ plans for a Big Society.

Their manifesto states that “The Big Society runs consistently through our policy programme”. If this is the case, why are they planning on punishing the long term unemployed with community work, while simultaneously trying to persuade the rest of us it’s something we should be doing in our spare time?

Community work is a carrot, not a stick and to use it in this punitive manner sends mixed messages the electorate will not warm to.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the Tories’ plans on welfare is the complete absence of much of the excellent work that has been produced by Tory think tanks over recent years. In particular, the Centre for Social Justice‘s Dynamic Benefits report, which unequivocally outlines why the welfare state is broken and must be radically changed and Policy Exchange‘s Escaping the Poverty Trap.

One can only hope that should the Conservatives win the election that Ian Duncan Smith MP is able to assert more influence over the reforms of the welfare state than he has been able to over his party’s manifesto. He seems to be one of the few MPs who in JK Rowling’s words has “taken the trouble to educate themselves about the lives of all kinds of Britons“.

And finally to the Liberal Democrats who launched their manifesto yesterday. Beyond the big headlines about making the tax and benefits system fair for all there is suprisingly little detail from them about how they plan to make the benefits system fairer. They state that, “Labour has created a hugely complex and unfair benefits system, and it needs to be reformed.” It’s somewhat disappointing then, to read on and find no information about how they plan to reform the benefits system.

Is anyone from the Liberal Democrats able to enlighten us? I’d love to know. We agree the benefits system needs to be reformed, but how? Voters are going to be wary of reforms that are unarticulated, even in the broadest of terms in an election manifesto. Please let me know if I’ve missed something.

We can only hope that the pledge to stop people who earn up to £10,000 a year paying any income tax, extends to those on benefits who take part time or sessional work while on benefits. The Centre for Social Justice’s report Dynamic Benefits has said that the current benefit withdrawal rate when someone does take work is akin to between a 75% and 95% tax rate on the poorest in our society.

Hardly the incentive the unemployed need in order to get back into work. And yet in this time of recession, this remains unaddressed by all 3 main English parties in their manifestos.

What are your thoughts on the manifesto commitments on welfare reform so far?