Welfare Music

Today David Cameron told a press conference that Labour’s plans to ensure parents of young children were encouraged to take up work training as “Sick” and “Macho”

He said “There is a rotten apple in the government’s barrel. The government wants to force single mothers of pre-school children to start the process of getting back into work.”

Which is sort of odd. Because last week we wrote an article for the Mail on Sunday in which he asked “There are 5 million people on benefits in Britain. How do we stop them turning into Karen Matthews?” and to which part of the answer was:

“Today in Britain, there are almost five million working-age people out of work and on benefits. This is a tragedy.

“Work gives life shape. It gives people esteem and responsibility. It powers our economy. So we’re going to end the something-for-nothing culture. If you don’t take a reasonable offer of a job, you will lose benefits. No ifs, no buts.”

Now, A careless reader might well think that Mr Cameron is arguing that the 5 million people on benefits will be expected to accept reasonable job offers with no ifs and no buts.

But apparently that’s not what it means. “No ifs, no buts” means lots of ifs and plenty of buts.

Which is something of a lesson in Mr Cameron’s political positioning, but let us leave it to one side, and accept that what Mr Cameron said was not what Mr Cameron meant.

What Mr Cameron is opposing are proposals set out in the Welfare Reform White paper published last week. 

A detailed analysis of Cameron’s policy shenanigans lies below the fold..

The relevant sections are in chapters four and six of the White paper, which are in part a response to the Gregg review of welfare.

Chapter Four deals with creation of a “Progression to work” group of benefit claimants, who are not expected to search for work now, but should be helped to prepare for work in the future.

“4.12 We agree that a very large majority of those outside the scope of the current Jobseeker’s Allowance regime will not be ready to look for work immediately. People in this group need a different, more highly personalised set of requirements because they may have other issues around skills, childcare, disability, their health conditions, debt or housing that need to be addressed. As such, we agree that the Jobseeker’s Allowance job seeking regime is (not)* appropriate for them.

4.13 Rather, Professor Gregg recommends that the best way of achieving this vision is through a single personalised conditionality regime where there is a clear recognition, in law, policy and practice, of two main groups of people. Both will be moving back towards employment, but usually in a very different way and with different requirements applying to them.

The White paper then goes on to suggest who should be in this group and what would be expected of them.

Progression to Work’ group: aimed at those for whom a return to work is a possibility with time, encouragement and support…

…The Gregg Review recommends this group should contain people claiming the Employment and Support Allowance but who are not in the Support Group, and those lone parents and partners with a youngest child aged between one and six…

…This means creating a new set of four interlocking requirements, asking people in this group to:

• attend Work Focused Interviews with their adviser at appropriate points;

• agree an action plan with their adviser that sets out the work-related steps they agree to take to help them back to work;

• undertake the work-related activities that support their own route back towards work; and

• follow adviser directions as a last resort.”

Sounds macho, doesn’t it?

Chapter Six then suggests that this should apply from the (childs) age of three onwards.

“While Professor Gregg suggests that lone parents with a youngest child aged between one and six should be in the ‘Progression to Work’ group, we believe that we should start to explore what these arrangements might look like for parents when the youngest child reaches three.

Under these arrangements, lone parents with a youngest child aged between one and two would be required to attend Work Focused Interviews, as is currently the case. They would have no further requirements placed upon them, but they could volunteer for support under the New Deal for Lone Parents. “

This is what David Cameron apparently thinks is shameful, sick and macho posturing.  Perhaps there aren’t enough ifs and buts.

But all this goes much further, because the idea of welfare conditionality for Lone Parents goes back to the US welfare reform and in Britain, the Freud review.

Here’s what Freud said on the topic of lone parents with young children.

The report therefore recommends maintaining the current regime for the unemployed, introducing stronger conditionality in line with Jobseeker’s Allowance for lone parents with progressively younger children”

Specifically for parents of young children Freud says how he would change the system to get parents to focus on getting into work:

“How lone parent conditionality would work

For someone who became a lone parent when their child was born:

Following an initial work-focused interview when a claim is made, the person might see an adviser twice a year to check that their circumstances remained the same and to think about what they might do in the future. At a certain age, for example once the child was at nursery for part of the week, the interviews might become quarterly, with an action plan agreed between the parent and the adviser.

Which is exactly what the Government is proposing in the White paper. You’d get work focussed interviews from when the claim is made till three and then a programme of “Progression to Work” support from three onwards, but no requirement to force people to work.

Now, you might think, that since David Cameron thinks that the Government plans are “shameless”, “sick” and “macho posturing”, that he felt the same way about the Freud report, which recommended the same thing.

But oddly, he didn’t.

Instead, he spent a great deal of time saying how weak the Labour government was being for not implementing it, and his Shadow Chancellor praised it to the skies.

When looking to the US model of Welfare reform,  David Cameron was even more enthused.  He went out of his way to praise the radical Wisconsin welfare reform model, saying at his annual conference speech:

We should look at the models that have worked elsewhere in the world…

… In states like Wisconsin  in America where they’ve cut benefit roles by 80 per cent, and the changes we will make are these: we will say to people that if you are offered a job and it’s a fair job and one that you can do and you refuse it you shouldn’t get any welfare”

You may have guessed but I’ll say it anyway.

The Wisconsin Welfare plan David Cameron praises  pushed single parents into conditional benefits after their child was just 12 weeks old.  This is the “shameful, sick, macho” programme David Cameron extolled to his party faithful.

Which, given what he said today, leads you to one of two possible conclusions.

Either David Cameron doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about when it comes to welfare reform, or he knows what he’s talking about and doesn’t care that it makes no sense.

Either way is pretty bad news.

So rather surprisingly, I find myself agreeing with Fraser Nelson, that David Cameron’s approach is both wrongheaded in policy terms and hypocritical politically.

Luckily, I think it’s also doomed to fail tactically.  Labour backbenchers won’t easily fall for particular brand of Cameron’s  Snake Oil.


*There appears to be a rather unfortunate typo here! However the meaning is clear as it follows the ruling out of jobseekers allowance in the previous paragraph.

PS I first took the time to point this out to some Conservative friends on Politicalbetting.com, the response was interesting.  You can read the outraged response from various Conservatives here. Idiot appears to be a favoured pejaroative when reasoned argument isn’t an option. 

15 Responses to “Welfare Music”

  1. Chris

    I have no time for Cameron but the ultra right Purnell’s workhouse ‘reforms’ are a total disgrace to our party and bring shame on us. Perhaps New Labour could start tackling the corporate big business crooks instead of stigmatising people on £67 a week? Oh of course the big business crooks are the ones New Labour dearly loves…

  2. hopisen

    Chris, what precisely is you oppose about the welfare white paper. I’m more than willing to discuss the benefits of the proposal – and the problems- but the kind of windy ‘workhouse’ rhetoric you use is impossible to respond intelligently to.

  3. Paul


    I think you do an excellent job of setting out the Conservatives total inconsistency on this matter, and that is a matter for praise in itself. To allow these inconsistencies would, conversely, be doing people no good at all.

    However, I do not think that Conservative inconsistency means that overall approval for the White Paper is warranted.

    I am not a Purnell-basher for the sake of Purnell-bashing, as is now fasionable; he is merely the latest on a line of ‘rights and resposiblities’ communitarian thinkers (whether or not he thinks about this), and I think the motives behind the proposals are reasonable, even laudable. I am quite happy with the now well-established view, based on decent research evidence, that there is a close link between enduring worklessness and social exclusion, and that (conversely) getting people into work is, for a lot of them and their families, a very good thing indeed.

    But many of the proposals in the White Paper and the accompanying Gregg report will not be implemented in the form they are set out in the White Paper, and will lead to a culture of sanction, an impression of punishment and further social exclusion for a significant number of people.

    Specfically in terms of the ‘work-related activity group’ that you refer to, in reference to childcare, I think it is overly optimistic to suggest that no-one with children 1-7 years will be ‘pushed’ against their will to work before they and their children are ready. Quite aside from the implementaion-on-the-ground issues (see below), logic dictates (and will end up in performance targets) that advisers will want claimants to go into work; why otherwise would childcare options be part of the work-related activity requirement, when the childcare need is removed at the age of 4 anyway when the child goes to school (other than breakfast club/afterschool care, over which parents mostly exercise no ‘option’ anyway because it’s linked to the school or another nearby venue anyway and there’s little choice to be had).

    In more general terms, my negative view of what the White Paper will bring is based on research into US attempts to bring in not dissimilar approaches, of the type you mentionm, where the policy has been one thing, the implementation has been quite another. I have posted about it at length and in some details at my place, if you’re interested,but basically I fear very much that the way a downtrodden lower civil service will implement the policies will be by sidelining the personalisation, and upping the threat of sanctions. That’s not a criticism of them, it’s just the way research shows it happens.

    Lastly, you are definitely not an idiot. you are a clever and I have no doubt a good person. But I’d ask you to look beyond the world of policy formation towards the world of policy implementation in Job Centres up and down the land, and I think you may take a different view – one that will, I hope, have you looking to see what amendments can be brought to what will otherwise well-intentioned but in the end, poorly researched (and by the Conservatives, probably largely unread) bill if their reaction the White Paper is anything to go by.

  4. Hopisen


    Thanks for your thoughtful response. It requires more time than I can give it tonight, and I really appreciate your time. If you’ll allow me, I’ll come back to this over lunch tomorrow, when I should have some time to reson in detail.

    In the meantime, If you don’t mind, I’m going to do a front page link to your comment.

  5. ChrisP

    Hi Hopi

    Probably wrong to call you an idiot but when the government is equally inconsistent i dont see the point in calling Cameron to account.

    I actually agree with the Government proposals, but don’t see how they can effectively be implemented before school age. I don’t think they are sick, but i do think the government wants to appear macho. In fact you never question the governments motivation. James Purnell says something very similar to Cameron “If there’s work there for people, we believe they should do it and people should not be able to turn down a reasonable offer of a job.”

    Why have an age rather than a child entering full time education as a point of support? Why should someone whose child enters primary school in septmeber not be compelled until June. That just doesn’t make sense to me.

    The other thing you fail to notice is that the government is equally positioning on this issue too. They have to talk about fluffy caring things in order to pacify the unions and socilaists within the labour party.

    Finally I would like to point out that I am not tory and have never voted for them in a GE, i just think labour are stupid most of the time. I actually agree with these proposals, think they are a good idea, but i dont think bringing in lone parents to a compulsory bureaucracy before school age will be particularly effective. By all means allow a right to the services, but not a compulsion.

    And to Chris upthread – David Cameron made a speech outlining his determination to hold fraudulent businessmen to account earlier this week. Perhaps you could support the tories in this – the government won;t want their complicity and incompetence being highlighted.

  6. SokeBoy

    I know I should read these new proposals from the Government but I really can’t be bothered.

    Whatever is suggested there won’t be improved training in either quality or choice. If I am mistaken then feel free to correct me.

    Labour’s sum total of ‘welfare reform’ has been to redecorate Jobcentres, rebranding them ‘JobCentrePlus’ but the service is no better.

    Why do we pay for ‘welfare reform ministers’ who don’t reform the system?

    New Labour have had nearly twelve years to put these things right and any changes they’ve made have been cosmetic. Anyone would think they prefer to have a large underclass….


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