As the Labour Party’s proposals for benefit changes for young people are based on work done by the Institute for Public Policy Research I thought I’d better read the IPPR report, The Condition of Britain. The report suggests three main principles: empowerment through decentralisation, restoring elements of contribution to social welfare, and ‘strengthening institutions’, which sounds at first like more supposedly joined-up thinking but turns out to be a series of minor tweaks to existing arrangements.
Despite the generalities of the introduction, there’s not much here to justify the selection of one policy over another. I agree that housing finance should be shifted ‘from benefits to bricks’, that the rate of contributory JSA should be increased, and that we should move to introduce a contributory element in the provision of social care for older people. At the same time, there are many points to disagree with. I don’t think we should be providing child care by offering means-tested support for payment in the private sector – it’s an arrangement that has never worked adequately – and we certainly shouldn’t be freezing Child Benefit to pay for it. I am sceptical whether adults aged 18-21 should be infantilised, but this report has proposals to move them into the system of juvenile justice, to replace their benefits with a ‘youth allowance’ and to means-test their parents (p.118). And the IPPR is still wedded to the idea of improving the Work Programme, which to me seems a lost cause. The basic problem with the WP, as with much in ‘welfare reform’, is that it ties specialised work support to the receipt of benefits, and ends up serving the needs of neither. This all begins to look like a collection of wizard wheezes and jolly good ideas, rather than a systematic plan for reform; and that approach to policy is something it shares with much of the agenda of the current government.