Tuesday 8th January 2008
Real Welfare Reform is needed not cosmetic change
Today the Conservative Party outlined plans for welfare reform that would force the long term unemployed to work for their benefits. However these plans will not tackle the real underlying issues behind the problem of long term unemployment. The Conservatives would make people claiming Jobseekers' Allowance for more than two years do 12 months community work or lose their Jobseekers' Allowance. They would of course be entitled to other benefits which because of the Governments complex web of benefits would increase if the Jobseekers' Allowance was removed. The jobless would also have to spend most of the working week at "back to work centres", where they would receive training and guidance to help find a job. This latter part is a good idea if it is properly funded and it tackles the difficult cases as well, but as with many Tory proposals the detail is missing to backup the sound bite.
In the Liberal Democrats we believe it is far better to abolish the differentiation between unemployment for different groups altogether. For all new claimants we would introduce a Single Working Age Benefit. By bringing in this benefit we can break down the current barriers which many people face in getting back to employment. Everyone will receive the same amount of money for being out work and then some people would receive additional top ups to help the meet the costs of a disability they may have of if they have children. These top ups would not be lost as soon as people found employment helping to ensure that work pays.
This is the real point - work must really be financially a better deal for the unemployed person. If because of lack of skills or increased child care costs an unemployed person is worse off by working then they are not going to work. Therefore welfare, tax and minimum wage reform are necessary to ensure that working always pays off.
Commenting on the Conservative proposal Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Danny Alexander MP said :-
"The Tory proposals are hollow rhetoric designed to sound tough rather than helping people back to work. The real issue is how to reduce poverty and raise aspirations by ensuring everyone has access to a fulfilling and sustainable job, not cosmetically lowering the benefit claimant numbers. Switching people between benefits will not tackle the problems of child poverty, low skills and mental and physical barriers to work."