From BBC News, 27 May 2010
Britain’s welfare system was “trapping” poor people in poverty, the work and pensions secretary said as he unveiled the government’s reform plans.
Iain Duncan Smith wants to create a single welfare-to-work programme and make benefits more conditional on willingness to work.
He said the system was “broken” and unaffordable.
Shadow work secretary Yvette Cooper claimed the government had cut 80,000 youth jobs.
Mr Duncan Smith, brought back into frontline politics by Prime Minister David Cameron, has spent several years in opposition preparing a blueprint for the future of the welfare state.
The former Conservative Party leader is now responsible for pushing the government’s Welfare Reform Bill – announced in Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech – through Parliament over the next few months.
Speaking to welfare experts from the voluntary, private and public sectors on Thursday, Mr Iain Duncan Smith said it was “absurd” that some of the poorest people faced huge penalties for moving from benefits to work.
He said 1.4 million people have been on out-of-work benefits for nine or more of the last 10 years.
“This picture is set against a backdrop of 13 years of continuously increasing expenditure, which has outstripped inflation.
“Worse than the growing expense though, is the fact that the money is not even making the impact we want it to,” he said.
“A system that was originally designed to support the poorest in society is now trapping them in the very condition it was supposed to alleviate.”
He said it was a “tragedy” that people on incapacity benefit for more than two years were more likely to retire or die than get a job.
“We must be here to help people improve their lives, not just park them on long-term benefits. Aspiration, it seems, is in danger of becoming the preserve of the wealthy.”
Incapacity benefit reassessment
Almost five million people were on out of work benefits and 1.4 million under-25s were not working or in full-time education, he said.
Outlining a welfare system that he said needed to be simple, Mr Duncan Smith said a Work Programme will be established.
It will include allowing older workers on to a welfare-to-work programme immediately rather than having to wait 12 months, as is currently the case.
Penalties will be introduced to benefit claimants who refuse to accept jobs, and everyone on incapacity benefit will be reassessed.
Mr Duncan Smith will chair a new Cabinet Committee, involving Cabinet members from the treasury, Home Office, health, and communities and local government, to tackle the underlying causes of poverty.
Ms Cooper said tax credits had made many people in low-paid jobs “thousands of pounds better off” but they did not always realise it.
She said the government had cut the job chances for young people.
“If you look really at what the Conservatives are proposing, they talk about trying to get more people back into work.
“In fact, the only thing they have done so far is to cut £300 million from the employment programmes budget – including cutting one of the highest-quality programmes, the Future Jobs Fund – and that means cutting 80,000 youth jobs at a time when unemployment is too high,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
She urged the government to continue with the incapacity reforms started by Labour.
Labour sought to increase incentives to work and introduce penalties for those unwilling to do so, but the Conservatives said reforms must go further and faster to tackle the problem of long-term unemployment, which they say underpins many of the country’s most deep-seated social problems.
During the election campaign, the Tories called for a sliding scale of sanctions for those on benefits who turned down work.
As in all policy areas, the government’s welfare agenda is having to reflect compromises reached between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems in their coalition agreement.
In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, Mr Duncan-Smith hinted that he was prepared to reach out to sympathetic figures in the Labour Party to try and build a consensus over the reforms.
“Lots of different hard-headed politicians have come into this job saying they’re going to do something different and walked out with the bills of social failure still rising,” he said.
“I’m determined that we take this once-in-a-generation chance to tie two parties together, and possibly elements of the third, to get the job done.”