Monday, 31 August 2009

Five steps to welfare reform

Lady Toynbee disparaged Cameron's chances of effective welfare reform in Saturday's Guardian; presuming that Labour's lunatic social engineering experiments were the only way to improve the lives of the poor, the feckless, the idle and the untalented, and that only 'more of the same' could work, she concluded;
There is no sign that Cameron or his team understand what it takes to make social progress. They should look harder at just how heavy the lifting has been for Labour. He sets himself a dangerously high benchmark if he wants to be judged on how much faster he can improve the lives of the poor. With this week's rhetoric, the Conservatives suggest they will do more – but that's a tall order, since Labour has still made better social progress than they can hope to match.
The difficulty for Lady Toynbee is that she rarely encounters those for whom she writes so bravely; they are unlikely neighbours to her either here or to her Tuscan villa, and they rarely venture into Waitrose. She therefore tends to see them as statistics, as percentages of median income, of numbers of at-risk children, as lower life expectancies and as higher prison risks. What she's campaigning for is not the poor but against the idea of poverty.

Frank Field, in contrast, actually knows what he's talking about. He actually understands that we've moved from the age of Beveridge, when the dole was a shameful but necessary safety-net, to an age of entitlement in which Welfare is a lifestyle choice. Field's is the first of five steps to welfare reform. Oh yes, Polly, it can be done - and it can be done differently to Labour's abject failure. There is an alternative.

1. Localise welfare
The first stage is to re-personalise welfare, that it's not 'The State' but 'my working neighbours' who are paying the bills. Benefits office staff know their clients better than anyone, and are the best placed to make accurate and fair benefit determinations. Welfare administration should be localised down to Parish level, with local benefits officers given a budget and allowed wide discretion in making benefit determinations. Claimants would have a right of local appeal to a Parish lay-tribunal. The result would not only be better, quicker and fairer decision making but taxpayers at the local level would know exactly how many (but not who) of their neighbours they were supporting, and at what cost.

2. Capping
A cap of two consecutive years claim for all benefits including HB and CTB except those for the profoundly physically or mentally disabled; at the discretion of local benefit officers, benefits to be up to 70% of the previous two years average earnings for the first year for the newly unemployed, or for those shifted from higher rate disability / invalidity benefits onto workless benefits. Those already on workless benefits would have two years more from the date of enactment. A lifetime cap of six years.

3. Transitional support
Unemployment is a stock concept. Even at full employment levels, at any time there will be those between jobs. An inflexible benefits system means frictional costs are high; many won't claim for a few weeks of unemployment because of the huge bureaucratic barriers and inefficiencies in doing so, and the same inefficiencies often mean it's easier to stay on benefits than accept a job offer. Removing the frictions in moving into and out of jobless benefits, and local discretion over transitional support grants and loans (where, for instance, accepting the next job may involve moving home, or putting the dog into kennels whilst working away) will remove the 'stickyness' of unemployment

4. Housing
Subsidised welfare housing is one of the nation's most expensive luxuries. We're past the days when a Council house was for life; welfare housing at taxpayer expense should be short-term and transitional, either for the temporarily unemployed or those undergoing life crises such as family breakup. Again, the stocks of welfare housing should be managed and allocated at local level by local benefits officers. Allocation priorities should include keeping two-parent families with children together, and short-term buffer accommodation for single persons with or without children who have excellent prospects of moving into work and getting their own place.

5. Community Settlements
We all know that however successful the above measures are, there will always be a hard core of the idle, the feckless and the sociopathic underclass who will exhaust their benefit or bear fatherless children with no intention of ever working or providing for themselves. We cannot abandon them. Even these must receive our Christian charity.

We need to build community settlements to house them, in supervised dormitories for the men, in wards with separate cubicles for single mothers. Such settlements would needs be 'closed' to restrict access to drugs and alcohol, but not prisons; clients could leave whenever they wished, but with no return within fourteen days. Useful work during the day for both men and women, and teachers and health workers for the children, would aim at rehabilitating even these and allowing their return to the world of self-responsibility. There would be no restriction on how long they stay once in - for this would be the final provision, and nothing more but the street and starvation beyond it.

Do I think Cameron would be brave enough to enact the above? No. I fear he's determined to prove Lady Toynbee right.


electro-kevin said...

Step 1

Announce that 9 months henceforth there will be no more benefit for single mums

Step 2

Decline any kind of support for immigrants who have not worked and paid taxes here for five years.

But then the political class likes things as they are. They are our enemies. This is why such a ridiculous and hypocritical figure as Polly Toynbee holds any sway here at all - and the same for that minority rag The Guardian which would not be in existence were it not a subsidiary.

talwin said...

Community Settlements. AKA Dystopia Villas: what a thought. Presumably intended as a disincentive to idleness, fecklessness and the sociopathic. If only.

Blue Eyes said...

I like DK's idea of not allowing anyone benefits until they have worked and paid taxes for a fixed period. That might break the cycle of 16-year-old school leavers simply not bothering to get a job. Ever.

Certainly welfare should be an emergency system for when people have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own. It should not be a lifestyle choice.

It should not be possible to play the system to lead a higher standard of living than someone with a good job. Unfortunately this seems only too easy for some people.

Brian E said...

Localised welfare is, of cause, what we had in the old days of Parish Relief; its main problem, and I suppose its end, came about mainly due to the mobility of the population and the fact that you could only claim in your place of origin. But there was one major principle that they adopted - "No person in this parish, on relief, should be better off than the worst paid person working full time", which should become the new mantra for any modern welfare payments.

Benefits should also be refused to any school leaver who failed to pass an acceptable school leaving examination on the grounds that he has deliberately failed to make himself available for work by his failure to acquire any skills.

electro-kevin said...

I read about one single mum in a paper "I love being a single mum, I can do anything I want." I thought this might be mischief on the part of the paper ... until I met one on Saturday evening. Out smoking and drinking "I love being a single mum, I can do anything I want." Her very words. This choice only works because it is subsidised.

And what of the Afro-Carribean lady - single unemployed mum ? Didn't like her brown eyes so she had an operation to change them to blue ... at a cost of five grand ! Where did that come from ? I don't have five grand to splash about.

The NHS are now putting the botched operation right for her at huge cost to the taxpayer.

Anonymous said...

The localisation and discretion things are good, however don't forget that in the wake of discretion comes pressure, intimidation, and violence: those who know how to pull such levers will ensure their benefits are permanent and never reduced.

"Know how many - but not who - you are supporting" - are you kidding? We all know who they are now, this won't change anything much!

EK is along the right lines. Apart from the aforesaid localism, my formula would be:

1. No benefits whatsoever for non-citizens, ever, at all. Currently, this might have to include citizens of other EU states. But it would not include any illegals. And "benefits" would include healthcare except emergency stuff like RTA's. No more health tourists from Canada, for example.

2. No benefits until you've paid tax (verifiably) for some number of years, thereafter a sliding scale reaching maximum after ten years' tax contributions.

3. Lifetime limit of some number of years.

4. Per-session limit of some smaller number of years or months.

5. No extra benefits or privileges for teenage mothers.

That sort of thing would make a start on the unemployment figures, I reckon.

electro-kevin said...

Anon at 11.44.

Any Conservative MP proposing such would be disowned by Cameron. I hate the fake Tory party more than I do Nu Lab. And I can't stand the sight of David Cameron already. He's not even PM yet.

TDK said...

Community Settlements is just another name for the workhouse.

Bottom line here is that the state can't solve poverty. The workhouse was created by do-gooders who thought they could solve poverty and they thought that the way to end it was to stigmatise those who lived off the work of others. Of course some deserve the stigma but many suffer poverty through bad luck. You will never be able to eliminate sympathy for those who suffer bad luck.

Once you save those who suffer bad luck you will find people who mimic the signs of bad luck so that they too can benefit from the freebies.

The important moral effect of welfare is not on the recipient it is on those who are on the rung above through their own effort. They see that despite their best efforts they can only marginally improve their wellbeing over those who would live off the public purse. Such people feel like mugs and its no surprise that some elect to not make the effort.

So grow the underclass.

Chrysippus said...

Having just returned from my usual break west of the Tamar I was (as ever) surprised that many of the people who have served me coffee/meals have travelled all the way from Eastern Europe to do the same, whilst my fellow countrymen from areas of high unemployment seem incapable of getting to the coach station.

Perhaps it's a language problem with Polish and Hungarian being closer to English than Geordie?

Anonymous said...

EK, I didn't say my proposals were politically possible or likely to see the light of day under Cameron's or any other administration.

I only said they would begin to fix our problems.

Actually, they are quite inconceivable under any conceivable elected government; I expect the leftish concensus to continue under Cameron (assuming he wins - it looks less of a foregone conclusion every day), and nothing to change.

Cameron is no Maggie.