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?
“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.
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.