The Work and Pensions Secretary should implement two distinctly conservative welfare reformsby Ryan Shorthouse / May 10, 2016 / Leave a comment
Read more: Iain Duncan Smith: the quest of a quiet man
In March, Iain Duncan Smith resigned, arguing that disability cuts in George Osborne’s 2016 Budget were “indefensible.” He was a passionate social reformer who claimed he had “no personal ambitions”; “I came into this government because I cared about welfare reform” he said when he resigned. What does his departure mean for compassionate conservatism?
His successor, Stephen Crabb, has an opportunity: to implement, rather than just talk about, a distinctly conservative agenda on welfare reform.
Yes, Duncan Smith can point to some successes since 2010: employment is at record levels; and long-term unemployment has fallen. But the tools he deployed to achieve these were largely those of previous governments: tougher conditionality and sanctioning, for example. Even his flagship Universal Credit, still gradually being rolled out, is a glorified tax credit. Duncan Smith was right to use these measures, but they are not some ground-breaking new approach to poverty reduction, despite his rhetoric.
After the EU referendum on 23rd June, the PM will want to focus on what animates him most: boosting the life chances of the least fortunate in society. Crabb therefore has a window to introduce reforms that could have considerable impact on public support for—and the effectiveness of—the UK’s welfare system.
Crabb has already indicated his two priorities: completing the rollout of Universal Credit and closing the disability employment gap. These are admirable aims. But he should be more ambitious. He should have two additional goals: significantly increasing contributory elements of the UK’s welfare system; and helping people to develop more diverse social networks. Together, these transformative, enabling Crabb to build a legacy that far surpasses his predecessor.
A more contributory system could significantly increase public support for state welfare. Attitudes towards state welfare are currently very negative indeed. As the architect of the modern welfare state, William Beveridge, argued, welfare provision needs to be rooted in “what the people of Britain desire.” When public consent is lost, it is harder for politicians to commit the necessary energy and resources…