Although Iain Duncan Smith’s speech on welfare was billed as somehow important, there is nothing new in it; it is another defence of some of the headline grabbing policies, such as the benefit cap, the bedroom tax, sanctions and Universal Credit, none of which bothers to address any of the key issues raised by critics. I find it hard to get worked up about it, but Polly Toynbee has risen to the task, dismissing his ‘magical thinking’ and the ‘paean of self-praise’. The key arguments are briefly reviewed by Jonathan Portes: what has been happening in the jobs market has little or nothing to do with what has happened with welfare.
Portes mainly considers the impact of changes on duration of claims and returns to work. I’m not sure, however, that this is the whole story. The figures for self-employment evidently conceal a great deal of non-employment, under-employment and unpaid time; the growth of claims of those in work (for example, about a million workers claiming Housing Benefit) has been rapid, suggesting that people are claiming as employed in preference to claiming as unemployed. It’s arguable that unemployment has simply been disguised, in a move that has echoes of the reclassification of unemployed people as sick in the 1990s.