In a speech to Reform, Esther McVey has outlined her vision of a reformed system of welfare benefits. It is almost exactly the opposite of what I have argued for over the years, most recently in What’s wrong with social security benefits? Ms McVey explains:
Our vision is one of a personalised benefit system, a digitised system.
Mine is for a system that is simple for claimants, less intrusive and less presumptuous.
We’re rolling 6 benefits into one, that means that people now have a better oversight of their income and can spend accordingly.
The government has produced a benefit which delivers an unpredictable outcome that is subject to change at very short notice. Withdrawal of all the elements of benefit all at once invites catastrophe.
We are developing a personalised system that gives a 360 degree view of an individual’s needs to provide bespoke tailor-made support.
The government has developed a benefit which is too complex for the administrators to manage, or even to pay on time, and too complex for claimants to understand.. People can’t work out whether they’re entitled, what they’re entitled to, or when entitlement stops.
Part of the problem, of course, is the misplaced faith in technology to resolve complex personal circumstances. Part is the emphasis on employment, which is simply irrelevant to most of the projected population that the benefits are intended to serve. But a larger part is the arrogance of a government department that assumes that it will be capable of responding to complex situations if only it asks for more, processes more and does everything more thoroughly. There are limits to what governments can do, and Ms McVey’s vision of a personalised, comprehensive digital system goes far beyond them.