The following is an excerpt from a speech about welfare just delivered by British PM David Cameron:
"Now when we look at how we got into this mess, we can go back in time and see a lot of good intentions.
Why does the single mother get the council house straightaway when the hard-working couple have been waiting for years?
Because governments and local councils wanted to make sure children got a decent start in life, so mothers were given priority for council housing.
Why do we have people on big salaries living in council houses?
Because governments wanted social housing to support hard-working people, so the eligibility criteria were set wide and the tenures long.
Why has it become acceptable for many people to choose a life on benefits?
Because governments wanted to give people dignity while they are unemployed – and while this is clearly important, it led us to the wrong places…
…to job seekers being called ‘customers' instead of claimants…
…and to conditionality on benefits being set at the bare minimum.
As well as the good intentions of governments, there was that assumption of trust at the heart of the system…
...that people would naturally do the right thing…
…that they would use the system when they fell on hard times but then work their way out of it.
This may have worked when the welfare state was born, when there was a stronger culture of collective responsibility in this country.
But as I've argued for years, the welfare system has helped to erode that culture."
It's a lengthy speech and it's all there in respect of recognising the problems.
But there remains a sense of avoiding tough answers.
"Back in the 90s the Clinton administration in the US started time-limiting benefits, and they saw federal case-loads fall by over 50 per cent.
Instead of US-style time-limits – which remove entitlements altogether – we could perhaps revise the levels of benefits people receive if they are out of work for literally years on end.
It is extraordinary that there are 1.4 million people in this country who have been out of work for at least nine of the past 10 years.
So softer time-limits – that increase the incentive to work, that stop people getting stuck in that welfare trap – could be something we consider."
The US reforms were the cumulative result of many states experimenting with reform ideas. I've looked at them extensively and consider they are the best implemented. Cameron misrepresents them here by talking about the total removal of entitlements. There are exemptions from time-limits and enormous assistance-in-kind programs. And individual states/counties still have autonomy with their own funds.
Crucial however is telling able people that the state will help them to a point and beyond that they are on their own. Britain and New Zealand are still too afraid to make that call.