A friend has forwarded an appeal for support from Iain Duncan Smith. I’m always eager to show different sides of the debate, so here it is for you to see.
At the heart of our welfare reforms is a simple goal: to tackle the culture of welfare dependency that Labour allowed to develop.So we’re creating a system that helps people stand on their own two feet – restoring the incentive to work and ensuring that work always pays.
Gone will be the days when it could make more sense to sit on benefits than enter work. Now, the right choice is also the logical one.
Our new Universal Credit is already transforming lives, freeing people from welfare dependency and helping them provide for themselves and their families.
Yet Labour refuse to back the scheme. Having opposed every one of our vital welfare reforms, including the benefit cap, again they stand in the way of progress.
The difference between the Conservatives and Labour on welfare is one of values.
The Conservatives stand for giving people the security of a job and hope for a better future. We believe in rewarding the willingness to work and helping people get on in life.
By contrast, the only thing you can honestly say that Labour stands for is more welfare dependency. They truly are the welfare party.
Iain Duncan Smith
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
The main argument here seems to be that Labour has encouraged welfare dependency and that the Conservatives have opposed it. Richard Murphy answered this very neatly a couple of years ago; here’s a graph he’d prepared. The substantial increases in the numbers of welfare claimants are overwhelmingly attributable to Conservative governments.
The second question, which is a little more difficult, is whether this has become a “culture” of welfare dependency. Is there any evidence that people have learned to stay on benefits? I’ve reviewed evidence on duration at several points in thes blog. The latest figures, up to May 2014,look like this:
|All claimants||1 year or less||5 years or more|
|ESA and incapacity benefits||2,470,210||452,590||1,454,490|
|Others on income related benefit||134,000||47,810||16,980|
|Disabled (mainly DLA)||461,890||1,800||337,310|
This may give the impression that the numbers of people on long-term benefits are increasing, but that’s largely down to changes in the way the figures are presented. The jump in long-term ‘jobseekers’ has happened because people have been forced off ESA and Income support; the ‘disabled’ figures are based on DLA, which is paid in and out of work. The overwhelming majority of long-term claimants are – according to the results of their assessments – people who are so seriously incapacitated that it’s not reasonable to expect them to work.
Have the Conservatives changed people’s behaviour in moving off benefits? There’s not much reason to believe they have. Here’s a graph from Jonathan Portes:
Iain Duncan Smith’s appeal for support seems, then, to be prospective – the belief that Universal Credit will make a difference when other changes to benefits haven’t. I’ve been sceptical about that, but I have doubts both as to the evidence that benefits have any major incentive effect and about the belief that Universal Credit would make a positive contribution to incentives if there was such an effect. The DWP has just released a research report claiming a small, marginal increase in the speed at which people find work – which may be true (pilots often report good results, reflecting the special attention the cohort receives), but the information is oddly selective (it runs from July 2013 to April 2014, when current statistics run to February 2015).
The Labour Party hasn’t really said decisively where it stands on Universal Credit. Casting them as being opposed to it may backfire, because as its failures become more apparent they might just make up their mind to go along with that.