Friday, January 11, 2008

John Baron MP: Welfare reform needed to tackle long-term poverty

MP backs plans to help people get back to work in Billericay and District

John Baron MP today added his support for calls to reduce long-term welfare dependency, tackle long-term poverty and re-create stable families. The policy ideas entitled “Work for Welfare” were launched by Conservative leader, David Cameron. They aim to help people find fulfilling jobs, while continuing to support those who genuinely cannot work. Currently across Billericay and District, there are 3,550 people on Incapacity Benefit and 970 on Jobseeker’s Allowance.

John said:
Labour’s old politics on welfare reform simply are not working. Despite the New Deal costing the taxpayer more than £3 billion, it is has become a revolving door back on to benefits with nearly 50% of young job seekers leaving the New Deal ending up back on benefits within a year. Someone on Incapacity Benefit for more than 2 years is more likely to die or retire than get a job.

People need better opportunities to take responsibility for their own success rather than being dependant on Whitehall handouts. The existing benefits system does not do enough to help people find work. Higher numbers of Incapacity Benefit claimants and high youth unemployment show that the policies of the last ten years have failed.

The Government boasts about the millions of new jobs it has ‘created’. But official statistics clearly show that 4 out of every 5 new jobs have gone to migrant workers in the past ten years despite having nearly 5 million people on out of work benefits.

Real welfare reform will help reverse the disastrous rise in family breakdown under Labour and tackle the persistent and often hidden poverty that shames our nation.
Under the new Conservative proposals:

Respect for those who cannot work: Recipients of Incapacity Benefit who really cannot work will receive continued support and will remain outside the return-to-work process.Employment for those who can.

Employment for those who can: Every out-of-work benefit claimant will be expected to work or prepare for work. There will be a comprehensive programme of support for job seekers including training, development and work experience. Welfare-to-work services will be provided by the private and voluntary sectors on a payment by results basis.

Assessments for those claiming benefits: There will be rapid assessments of all new and existing claimants for out-of-work benefits.

Limits to claiming out of work benefits: People who refuse to join a return-to-work programme will lose the right to claim out-of-work benefits until they do. People who refuse to accept reasonable job offers could lose the right to claim out-of-work benefits.

Community work: Those who claim for more than two years out of three will be required to help out on community work programmes.

End Tax Credit discrimination: The savings from these reforms will be used to end the discrimination against couples in the Tax Credits system.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Conservatives on Welfare Reform

Why do fit and able men and women choose to stay on the dole instead of going out to work? The short answer is because they can. Of course, unemployment and incapacity benefits exist for very good reasons. People do find themselves out of work through no fault of their own. People do get sick and a society that has any sense of solidarity looks after its members who fall on hard times, but that is not going on here. Every calculation, and plenty of direct evidence, suggests that there are large numbers of people for whom benefits have become a way of life, despite the fact that they are perfectly capable of providing for themselves. This is bad not only for public funds, but for wider society and the individuals themselves. Work brings order and stability to lives that can otherwise drift into the chaotic or criminal. It also, on average, brings a better standard of living over the medium and ling term. Put simply, if you live on benefits then you are likely to be poor, remain poor, bring up your children in poverty and have a much worse quality of life.

Tony Blair talked tough on this, but did more or less nothing about it. In fact the hidden unemployment of the benefit-dependent has grown sharply under Labour. Gordon Brown has belatedly started to talk about this issue, but it is the Conservatives that are making the running. Drawing on the US experience, where sharp curbs on welfare have reduced unemployment and all of the related social problems. The Conservatives have proposals to make Incapacity Benefit more rigorous, to stop the benefits of people who refuse to take a job that they are offered and to require that the long-term unemployed work in the community instead of sitting around at home. There are also proposals to contract private companies to find people work on the basis of no jobs, no fees. All in all this is first fresh thinking on this issue since Frank Field was sacked by Tony Blair for actually trying to reform the system. If I was Brown then I would be worried by all of this. A rule in politics is that you don’t hand the initiative to your opponents. Now, anything that he proposes will be measured against the Conservative proposals, and because they got in first he will seem like a copycat.

One good thing for the country though is that people are at least seriously thinking about benefits reform. A policy bidding war in this area is no bad thing.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Barack Obama wins first Democratic Primary

Barack Obama won handsomely in the Iowa Democratic Primary, beating John Edwards into second place and trouncing Hillary Clinton. Leaving Edwards aside, he has lurched sharply to the left in an effort to court Democrat activists and would find it hard to move back to the centre where elections are actually decided, it is already obvious that the Democratic candidate will be Obama or Clinton. Their sharp divide is less in policy terms, though Obama wants universal health care and Clinton is steering well clear of her great failure, and is more in terms of their political style. Barack Obama is an optimist, a one-nation politician, who wants to lead his whole country, not just the faction that voted for him. Clinton is a percentage politician, triangulating interest groups on an influence grid and running systematic attacks on her opponents. So, her people have been caught trying to push the notion that Obama was a drug dealer or is secretly a radical Muslim, never mind very public and personal attacks on his perceived lack of experience. This is the Alastair Campbell School of politics, and it leaves a bad taste even when it is effective. The good news here is that it doesn’t seem to be. Rumour-mongering hasn’t worked, in fact it has backfired with Clinton forced to personally apologise to Obama about some of the activities of her staff. The inexperience thing hasn’t resonated either, reminding people more of Hillary’s past ups and downs more than damaging her opponent. So, a positive, inclusive politician is leading over a divisive, negative one. That works for me.

As a Conservative, I map more to the Republicans than the Democrats and of their candidates I have time for Giuliani and McCain and no-one else. In particular people who overstate their religion in an effort to boost their appeal worry me greatly, which covers several of the Republican front-runners. The Huckabees and Romney’s of this world would be crushed by either Clinton or Obama in a general election. Put them up against someone like Giuliani and that would make for a contest.