Both the left and right in British politics are obsessed with economic outcomes. The impact of a policy – whether it is a tax cut, tax rise, welfare reform or a free school meal – is almost exclusively evaluated and argued over in terms of its economic effect.
The Crown Prosecution Service announced this week its intention to deal with fraudulent benefit claimants under the Fraud Act, thereby increasing the maximum sentence for benefit fraud to up to 10 years. Unsurprisingly, the reaction from Number 10 to this news has been welcoming, to say the least.
The idiocy of this policy barely needs repeating.
The cornerstone of the Coalitions’ welfare reform agenda is the idea of ‘welfare dependency’. That people, as they remain reliant on the social security system, acclimatise to being unemployed; they no longer want to work, they adapt to a life without work and they get used to a life on benefits.
There is a large network of what policy academics call ‘active labour market policies’ (ALMPs); or what politicians refer to, in the increasingly Americanised language of social security, ‘welfare-to-work’.
ALMP’s are big business.
It feels like groundhog day. Each time George Osborne delivers a budget or a spending review, it feels like welfare gets hit the hardest. Wednesday’s CSR was no different as the Chancellor unveiled a largely unexpected bundle of further welfare reforms.
This week, Labour has made some (potentially) significant shifts in its welfare policy. On Monday, Ed Balls announced that a future Labour government would seek to means-test the universal Winter Fuel Allowance.
Max Wind-Cowie writes for Prospect magazine that UKIP’s recent electoral and polling successes can be put down to it’s ‘accidental post-liberalism’. By ‘post-liberalism’, Wind-Cowie means the idea that there are serious fallouts, losses and consequences from the hegemony of liberalism: both economic and social.
There is a lot of debate, particularly fuelled by the political right and the tabloid press, about the extent to which unemployed people are genuinely looking for work. People on the right argue that there needs to be a tighter sanctions regime so those who are failing to look for work are encouraged to do so.
This time last year, commentators were panning George Osborne for a budget that left few people happy and unravelled painfully over the spring of 2012. Yet for all the talk of pasties and grannies, a much more serious feature of the omnishambles Budget was largely missing from the subsequent furore.
Labour and Ed Miliband desperately need to carve out a position on social security. Boxed in by public popularity with the tough Tory stance, Labour has resorted to an unconvincing defensiveness on welfare reform: often accepting new policies ‘in principle’, but stating that Labour would do it just a bit differently.
Since Labour’s election defeat in 2010, most political and policy attention has been focused on redefining the party’s economic mission. In the context of ongoing financial woes – many of which the public have blamed Labour for – this is not too surprising.
A prominent symbol of the Coalition era is the policy u-turn. From forests to pasties, and grannies to charities, the Coalition’s standard model of policy-making has been ‘make policy; await public backlash; scrap policy’.
One of the Coalition’s most popular – or at least defensible – policies is the increase in the personal tax allowance. Perhaps the least ‘omnishambolic’ move in the March budget was the raising of the income tax threshold to £9,205.
In 1999, Tony Blair made what was a quite remarkable commitment: to end child poverty in the UK.
It was one of the boldest and most ambitious pledges made during the whole New Labour era. It came after nearly 20 years of rising child poverty rates that saw almost 1 in 3 children living in poverty.
There is a quiet but important discussion happening in Conservative circles: one that – although drowned out by pasties and grannies – could have important consequences for the next election.
Put short, it is a discussion about the role of the working-class in the ongoing, and still much needed, modernisation of the Conservatives.
Labour are enjoying their best month since the general election defeat in 2010. Columnists and pundits from across the political divide are now openly discussing the likelihood of a Labour majority in 2015. Even Miliband’s strongest critics have been forced to recognise his position has strengthened.
Stories are an important part of politics. Not long after heads have rolled and tears been shed, narratives are born and accepted ‘truths’ emerge about the past. The Major era is a case in point: once widely regarded as farcical, it has now been reinvented (largely by nostalgic conservatives) as a success.
A4e, the welfare-to-work company, has had a tough time of late. Back in February, the company’s founder Emma Harrison resigned as its chairman amid allegations of fraud. Critics of public service outsourcing pounced upon A4e’s misfortune as an example of the dangers of using the private sector to deliver public services.
Academics in social policy like to talk about three different types of ‘welfare state regime’. At one end of the spectrum we have the Nordic regimes: characterised by generous, universal benefits that are paid out as of right.
In the budget George Osborne will announce plans to issue annual personal tax statements in order to let citizens know precisely where their tax gets spent. So far, the issue has been set up as one of left versus right, with some conservative commentators clearly believing the policy to be a route to lower taxes.