If the last Parliament was about reforming the quantities of welfare, then this one will be about reforming its nature. The benefits cap in particular was a popular and well-targeted measure to rebalance people’s decisions in favour of work, and today we see its corollary – not simply that benefits should be less generous, but that they should also be conditional. A new review proposes that people who are unable to work due to obesity, drug addiction or alcohol problems will only be able to continue receiving taxpayers’ money if they accept help to overcome the issue which has made them welfare-dependent.
No doubt, some on the Left will declare this is cruel – but only because they have come to measure kindness in the amount of other people’s money that is handed out, regardless of the consequences. It was never kind or generous to use taxpayers’ money to subsidise harmful and even life-threatening habits – it was obscene.
People who needed help were instead placed on the shelf and given cash which they inevitably used to make their problems worse. Their assigned fate was the limbo of permanent dependency and often eventual death. The callous disregard for the suffering of them and those around them, never mind for the waste of human potential, was far more cruel than the tough love required to help straighten them out. A truly compassionate system would have helped to save them, not facilitated their addictions.
We must also remember that the question of compassion in the welfare system applies to more than just the recipient. Those who work hard and pay their taxes do not deserve to have their hard-earned money spent destroying lives in this way.
Politically, these reforms will be an early test for the Opposition. Will they misjudge the issue as they did the benefits cap and scream that the measures are somehow evil? If they do, then they will lose even more support among workers and taxpayers who see the sense and decency in building a welfare system that solves people’s problems rather than subsidises them. If they concede that such a system would be more humane, as well as better for taxpayers, then will they be able to weather the storm of abuse they will get from their own spending-obsessed core supporters? The Government intends to force them to choose.