29th September 2011
By Isabel Hardman
Benefit payments should be conditional on a claimant attending support groups or volunteering in the community, an influential adviser to Ed Miliband has suggested.
Maurice Glasman, a Labour peer and founder of the ‘Blue Labour’ movement, revealed in an exclusive interview with PoliticsHome that he was formulating plans for a reform of the welfare system that he believes will empower claimants rather than leaving them reliant on state help.
On top of a contributory-based system where claimants who have paid more in taxes might receive more in benefits, which is already being considered by the party’s policy review, Lord Glasman also suggested that the welfare system should “bring people together”.
This would involve claimants being required to join support groups or visit vulnerable people, he said. “For example, a parent claiming benefit for a child with autism might join a local group supporting autism, or someone else might visit an old person,” he said.
The peer, who frequently advises Mr Miliband during debates held at the Labour leader’s home on Sunday afternoons, told PoliticsHome that his proposals, which he expects to feed into the policy review, would work particularly well for those with mental illnesses, who he described as “isolated and disappointed”. He said connecting claimants within the community would deal with this sense of isolation and better empower them to change their lives.
He said: “You have to place a way to build relationships and situate them in the welfare system. This is going to have a very strong democratic element: this is not about philanthropy at any level, which was about the deserving and undeserving poor. There is no responsibility without power.”
The party’s Shadow Welfare Minister Karen Buck gave a cautious welcome to the suggestions, saying: “Maurice Glasman has some interesting ideas. Let’s put it through the policy review process.
“But it is not going to replace the fundamental principle of social security when people have no money.”
But backbench Labour MP Kate Green, previously the chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, dismissed the idea as “patronising”. She said: “The idea of more conditionality for benefits is wrong. We have got the most conditional system in Europe.
“I think it is patronising and unsettling actually. I think Maurice Glasman is wrong about that.”
Ms Green said claimants already had meetings that they were required to attend in order to prepare them for a return to employment, and dismissed suggestions that those suffering from depression would benefit from what she described as “being forced to go and meet people”.
Anthony McCaul, Senior Media and Campaigns Officer at Family Action, said: “A lot of the families that we work with have very very complex problems themselves, if there is a parent with a disabled child, there are huge time pressures already in terms of caring, so to add that level of conditionality for them to get their benefits would be very difficult for many of them.
“Many families with disabled children are already part of groups that support them anyway, and it also suggests that perhaps they are bad parents. This proposal from Blue Labour would make families see red.”