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The first rule of welfare reform is to rate your proposals on the Beveridge-o-meter. Every politician does it. And there are no prizes for modesty. New proposals must be heralded as “the biggest shake-up of the welfare system since Beveridge.” The 1942 Beveridge report, which provided the blueprint for the postwar welfare state, is the unit of measure for reform. It’s a cliché, but it’s the only currency that counts.

The latest pretender to the Beveridge crown is work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith. He has got off to a good start, with George Osborne describing his proposals at…

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