Frank Field: Pessimism about welfare reform must not be allowed to halt progress

Labour MP Frank Field: the Coalition's welfare reform policies are failing. Photo: PA
Frank Field, the free-thinking Labour MP for Birkenhead who was appointed as the Coalition’s poverty tsar, today attacks Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms for not being strict enough.
His intervention means that, within the space of a few days, two former Blairite ministers co-opted by David Cameron have outflanked a Tory-led government from the Right.
Last week, Alan Milburn, the former Labour health secretary and current social mobility tsar, also writing in this newspaper, described the U-turn on private competition in the NHS as a “disaster”.
We do indeed live in unusual political times.

Central to Mr Field’s critique is his prediction that Mr Duncan Smith’s “welfare to work” programme will not force a generation of ill-educated British youths into employment.

Instead, the new jobs will go to those workers – many of them immigrants – who are only temporarily unemployed thanks to the recession.

Lazy benefits claimants will find ways of manipulating the new Universal Benefit to their advantage, just as they have managed to sidestep every other welfare reform.

They “know from past experience that governments leave them alone”, says Mr Field.

This is a pessimistic assessment – too pessimistic, Mr Duncan Smith would argue. His reforms take the hugely important step of making it less profitable to stay on benefits than to work, and they do impose penalties on claimants who refuse to accept the Government’s helping hand.

Also, the Universal Benefits offers a simplification of welfare bureaucracy that is inevitably expensive to implement in the short term.

It was adopted by the Coalition only after the Work and Pensions Secretary fought a tough battle with the Treasury.

We are glad that Mr Duncan Smith won that battle: a radical stripping-down of welfare is long overdue.

On the other hand, there is merit to Mr Field’s arguments. But, rather than seeing them as the foundations of a Right-wing Labour welfare reform programme, as he rather implausibly does, we think they point towards the eventual shape of Conservative policy.

Mr Field is absolutely right to point out that British public opinion is now opposed to means-tested universal benefits and needs-determined social housing.

Increasingly, taxpayers in many countries are hostile to undeserved benefits.

Ultimately, as this (TORYBTC) newspaper has argued, legislation must create a moral obligation to work and shame the feckless.

But perhaps the time is not yet ripe for a Tory politician to spell out this message so bluntly: it would be drowned out by the hysterics of the liberal media.

And that is why, though we think he is too harsh on Mr Duncan Smith, we are glad that a Labour MP has spoken out.

The Torygraph

4 thoughts on “Frank Field: Pessimism about welfare reform must not be allowed to halt progress

  1. atosvictimsgroup says:

    Welfare Reform is about following the American model or more to the point the “Wisconsin” model of welfare, Cameron’s ideal is that no one gets any cash benefit whatsoever, food stamps and shelters are his dream.

    I’m just waiting for Cameron to start handing out Iron Crosses to his welfare generals…

  2. After Atos says:

    WHAT SODDIN’ PROGRESS?? What do yer want, piled high bloody bodies and a digger to shove them into a pit. It will be there, don’t you worry, all the evidence and witness and sorrow on camera to see, as it is now. I’ll send you an invite to the picture premier promotion.

    Yer have to be for yer selves even SNP say they trust Harrington.

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