Monday, 8 November 2010

Welfare reform

I have been unemployed and I have claimed benefits:

For those who do not know my degree was in public policy; so I like almost every politics student studied the Beveridge report written by William Henry Beveridge, 1st Baron Beveridge. Now Beveridge sought to defeat five giant (Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness) rotting are nation from within. He had lived through periods of unemployment that make the coalition cuts seems meek and he’d seen people starve and made homeless by this unemployment, he and his generation knew that want and idleness where linked, inseparable from each other.

In Beverage’s welfare scheme all would be found work by the state thus removing the threat of idleness, even if this meant forcing them (though such humanist language would have been utterly alien to Beveridge). People made unemployed received after a period of six weeks a choice of three jobs which they were expected to choose, no, if buts or maybes and if there were no jobs Beveridge expected the state to create them.

There was no training (though apprenticeships where common placed) nor long term unemployed and those pensioned off sick where just that, physically incapable of any work. No one chose to be made unemployed because there was no long term benefit and no way to avoid doing work. Also a massive shortage of labour after WW2 assisted in Beveridges helped.

The trouble is, soon government realised that creating jobs was very expensive and lead to unproductive nationalised industries filled to the brim with badly trained unionised workers. They soon decided, instead of providing the guarantee jobs, they would merely supporting people with far cheaper benefits and some notional training and I do mean notional. In the long history of government training schemes very few stand out as useful or anything much more then cosmetic.

Like the pension bomb left over from the birth of the welfare state we are now facing, we are also facing the cost of the end of job creation and of enabling anyone to live a life on benefits. In short we are facing one of Beverage’s giants Idleness. IDS and Beveridge (for very different reasons) both loath idleness not only because it cost the state millions and creates a class of degenerates but because it’s a terrible and inexcusable waste of human life and I believe we need some IDS and some Beverage to defeat idleness.

IDS laudable policy is in short to unify all benefits into one and continue housing and child care benefits into working life, whilst reducing the benefits at the unemployed end or requiring more activity from those receiving it. He has quite reasonably abolished the cosmetic training schemes that the government did occasionally offer to the select few but has and I think tragically not reinstated a universal training program and this is where IDS could do with a little of Beveridges compassion (yes compassion my dear Tories and Beveridge flair for new ideas).

I am talking about a new training state a state that pursues even as a secondary aim the eradication of unemployment through force and assistance and real hand up not a hand out state. Yes Reader a new post-war consensus where we and the private sector work together and achieve the utilisation of all our human labour.
So what am I suggesting, well first thing first that we continue with all IDS welfare reforms even compulsory working , indeed I would add to the long term unemployed (over three years), we add those who managed to gain but quickly loose more than three jobs in a run. I also believe that we must make work pay for all and dam the oddities and inequalities this causes and I believe in tying housing benefit into it, as I am sure Beveridge would be incensed at the idea of a state subsidised house for life.

What I and I believe Beveridge would add is a universal training scheme, open not to a select few but to everyone unemployed. This universal service would tie together apprenticeships (increased by offering tax concession to participating businesses and even future NI cuts for apprentice recruitment. It would combine OU course (already free to the unemployed) with upfront free course of the candidates choice (both to be paid back after employment regardless of the subsequent wage but based upon it, so it never make work uneconomic) as well with local voluntary agencies looking for placements (and anyone on this would be freed of the need of register for six months) and compulsory CV & interview skills as soon as your sign on.

Combine this with NI cuts for any firm taking on the unemployed and tax cuts to all firms offering substantive training and of course intensive job assistance from private or public bodies (replacing the lame duck job centres) and crushing and punitive actions taken against those who reject all the help now offered to them and I really believe even Beveridge himself would see we are not just attacking want but also idleness. I know this is not perfect and I am sure some will suffer but they suffer now, they suffer from idleness and of being thrown upon the scrap heap and I want to liberate them with a true merciful and conservative hand up not a hand out.

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