Chris Grayling MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and ‘Shadow Minister’ for Liverpool, explains what a Conservative government would do in order to tackle welfare dependency.
A few weeks ago I was walking through Toxteth with a local youth worker. As we walked down one street I asked her how many people in the street had a job. She paused for a moment and did a brief mental count. Three, she said.
That street is less than a mile from Liverpool City Centre, site of the development of one of Britain’s biggest new shopping centres, the new Echo Arena, a planned cruise ship terminal, new hotels and plans by Peel Holdings to turn part of the old docks area into a Canary Wharf style development.
It just makes no sense at all. People trapped on benefits – a dependency culture – such a short distance from an abundance of new opportunity. It has to change.
Britain has nearly five million people on out of work benefits. We have proportionately more children being brought up in poverty than any other country in Europe. We have a cycle of dependency and underachievement that is spreading from generation to generation. We are paying a huge human and financial cost.
It’s against that background that we set out, in January, the outline of our plans for the most radical reform to our welfare state for half a century and more.
We have to move away from a system that is founded on entitlement to
one where both state and the individual have clear responsibilities. We
need to improve the help we give to people to get them back into work.
But in return they have to take part in a clear process to get them
there. If they refuse, they will lose their out of work benefits.
In short, we need a system where it is not possible to spend long
periods of time at home doing nothing while claiming benefits. Unless
there is a genuine medical reason for doing so.
Under our proposals the whole of the welfare to work process will be
contracted out to third party organisations from the private and
voluntary sectors on a payment by results basis. They’ll do the job,
but will only be paid once someone is back in work and we are getting
the savings because they aren’t claiming benefits any more. That’s how
we make the sums add up.
There’ll be a network of back to work centres around the country, with
tailored support catering for people ranging from conventional job
seekers to people trying to overcome incapacities and disabilities.
Participation will be mandatory. Those refusing to take part will have their benefits suspended until they do.
Conventional job seekers will be referred automatically after a maximum
of six months of independent job search. People under 21 will be
referred after three months claiming, to help break the cycle of
generational worklessness that exists in some areas.
Those claiming Incapacity Benefit will be asked to attend an
independent medical assessment, and will be automatically be referred
to the programmes if the assessment says they have the potential to
return to work.
And it will be obligatory to accept a reasonable job offer, with much tougher penalties than at present.
Finally, for those who don’t find work or don’t try, there will be
mandatory community work programmes for those who have claimed Job
Seekers Allowance for more than two years cumulatively out of the
When we announced our plans, two opinion polls showed overwhelming
support for them. That prompted the Government to try to march onto
some of this territory. But the reality is they just don’t know how to
do it properly. Their efforts are tentative – we are about to get yet
another discussion paper. They’ve been using our language to get
headlines – but there’s little tangible action. And their record is one
The next stage of the work for us is to develop a detailed
implementation plan ahead of the publication of a White Paper in the
run-up to the General Election. We have a team of analysts in place to
support that work. And we are talking to those who have made this work
both on a small scale in the UK, and much more effectively in other
countries to ensure we refine our approach to ensure success.
The one obvious question right now is what happens if unemployment
starts to rise. Where will the jobs come from? It’s certainly more
difficult running a back to work programme in tough times. But the
evidence from elsewhere, particularly in the United States in the
recession at the end of the dot com boom, is that the trend of
improvement that a programme like this delivers is not halted by
And we can’t afford to ignore the challenge of worklessness. It makes
no sense to have millions coming here to work, while millions of
British people are sitting at home on benefits. With all the social
problems that benefit dependency brings with it.
Changing that will be crucial to our success when we are back in Government.
This is the second of ConservativeHome’s five-part ‘A Government Worth Having’ series. Michael Gove wrote about schools policy yesterday. Nick Herbert will write about rehabilitation and crime tomorrow.