A chance for reform
Jenni Russel has written a brilliant piece in today’s Guardian, outlining just how unrealistic and inflexible our welfare system has become. She is absolutely right that a benefits framework that ignores the uncertainties of the modern labour market is flawed. It is simply no longer the case that finding a job, and being good at that job, is enough to guarantee your employment for the rest of your working life. Yet this remains the premise for our approach to unemployment.
Whichever party forms the next Government you can guarantee that welfare reform will form part of their legislative programme. The Progressive Conservatism Project has called for greater flexibility – both in the types of support available and in the way in which it is provided – in our report Recapitalising the poor. Not everyone will agree with our specific proposals, and there are many other important ideas for building a flexible and effective welfare system, but we could all do a lot worse than to take Jenni’s article as the clarion call for real reform. As the recession bites, and unemployment escalates, we will be increasingly compelled to make the welfare system work for the millions who, through no fault of their own, find themselves out of work. Benefits passports, start-up grants for small businesses and effective time-banking systems could all offer innovative means of helping people to find meaningful uses for their time and their skills – without becoming trapped in welfare dependency. For all the horrors of full-scale downturn there are opportunities too, it’s imperative that Government takes them.