Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hope yet for UK Conservatives

When the Conservatives were elected I felt disinterested because on my reading of it they didn't look very different from National. Too close to the centre to be of any use.

However, not only Frank Field, but David Freud is in Cameron's new cabinet. Freud advised Labour on welfare reform but then defected to the Tories. Here he tells why;

“This figure's wrong,” Gordon Brown interrupted as I began to explain my Welfare Report to him. He leaned threateningly towards me, jabbing a stubby finger at a table in my draft.

I looked at it. “No it isn't,” I replied.

“Yes it is.”

“No it isn't.”

“Yes it is.”

This was becoming unproductive. I tried to break the impasse. “I'll make clear that it's a gross figure, if that will satisfy you,” I proposed.

“Yes, yes. Do that,” he growled.

I was in his Treasury office in February 2007. I had been asked by Tony Blair and then work and pensions secretary John Hutton to write an independent report on how to reform the welfare system. They were happy with my recommendations: now I had been sent to explain them to Brown.

It was a surreal encounter. The changes I was recommending were genuinely radical. Yet as our argument veered on for the next half-hour, we went from one inessential detail to another. Try as I might, I could not get him to discuss matters of principle. After this bizarre softening-up exercise, he dumped me into a room full of officials and special advisers, who demanded that I make change after change to the report.

In the end I managed to publish the independent report that I wanted to: one that championed a major effort to roll back the number of people dependent on benefits. In particular, it recommended that substantial resources be directed to helping those 2.6 million people who had been parked on Incapacity Benefit, with the investment financed from the resulting savings to the benefits bill.

When the economic crisis erupted in autumn 2008, the Government's response seemed to show all the top-down characteristics that have failed us over the past 30 years. Gordon Brown had clearly not accepted the reforming principles behind my outcome-led proposals — not surprisingly, given his lack of interest in them during our bruising, nit-picking encounter.

And even where Labour had accepted parts of my approach in principle, the pace they proposed would be terrifyingly slow. They were looking to pilots covering less than 20 per cent of the country — leaving many people without any serious support.

So I was enthralled when David Cameron and George Osborne asked me in February 2009 to join the Conservative Party to help them develop the ideas in my report into real, nationwide policy. They were determined that a Conservative government would launch the long and difficult task of rolling back the extraordinarily high levels of dependency that have developed in this country.

Today the fruits of that work are launched in a new welfare contract for Britain. Its principle is: do the right thing and we will back you; fail to take responsibility and the free ride is over. As well as using the principles behind my report to help millions of people who have been abandoned for too long, within six months of taking office we will introduce new sanctions for anyone who refuses to look for work.

That way we can have a welfare system that is firm but fair, and we can end Britain's dependency culture. Gordon Brown clearly doesn't want to change the system: we need a change of government to get the job done.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

t substantial resources be directed to helping those 2.6 million people

The UK doesn't have substantial resources to be directed to anything to "help anybody.

As the incoming treasury secretary found out there's no money left.

We can't spend up large - even say GBP 1000 on each bludger (which doesn't buy much) is still 2.6 BILLION POUND on the pointless task of trying to "encourage" bludgers of the teat.

But you can save many more billions just by stopping the benefits. No need for "substantial help". No need for "lots of staff" to oversee benefits, "case manage" or all the rest.

Just. Stop. The. Spending.