Iain Duncan-Smith, a genuinely good and well-meaning man, assiduous and diligent, has just unveiled his new Five Year Welfare Plan. It's actually remarkably like the old, failed Five Year Welfare Plan, except they've swapped some of the coloured knobs around on the Great Levers of State, fitted leatherette gaiters and updated the old electro-mechanical tell-tales on the vast Whitehall control board with LEDs. Here will sit the Secretary of State in a James T Kirk type command-chair skilfully piloting the State Ship 'Welfare'; a tweak on the Employment Support Allowance lever, half a turn on the Universal Credit dial and cross-feeding the Earnings Cap through the Lithium Drive and IDS will smile as the Leviathan settles on a new course. Staff across the country will soon be coming to terms with the new 4,000 page instruction manual, digging for the Politburo's procedure in the case of crediting Class I NI Contributions to a Share Fisherman undertaking 12 hours of voluntary work a week.
What a wasted opportunity.
In preserving 'the State' as the provider of Welfare support, rather than you and I, taxpayers, IDS preserves the anonymity and sense of entitlement that such distance creates. If your welfare payments, your rent and your Council Tax come from the wallets and purses of the people you meet in the local Co-op, if assistance and assessment comes from learned and skilled local benefit officers with wide powers of discretion, and if the 'little platoons' can play their part in recycling toys and clothes, providing IT and other training, keeping the community's eyes out for job opportunities, and policing and correcting free-riding, then those in need of support will be infinitely better served than by this distant, vertical relationship between the individual and the State.
IDS, decent chap though he is, has blown the chance of a generation in truly reforming Welfare for the better.