Frank Field MP
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Welfare reform - where next?

DWP publishes today a report showing how ineffective the Government's sanction regime is in smartening up claimants none too keen to find work. The report is released a day after the Commons debated the Government's new welfare reform bill.

This bill was conceived for an age in which boom and bust had been abolished. Over the past ten years over three million new jobs have been created but the workless total has fallen by a mere 400,000 claimants. Nine out of ten of the new jobs have been taken by immigrants.

Even through the age of continuous boom the Government's welfare reform measures clearly are not working. Worse still they are totally inappropriate to the conditions which an increasing numbers of families will face as the economic hurricane gains pace.

New Labour has made much of reforming welfare to match the new Labour market. Those worklesssness figures - 5.1 million at the last count - give a hollow ring to such claims.

A welfare reform bill that looks forwards instead of backwards would centre on two measures. Large numbers of citizens with impeccable work records are going to be sacked. They will then find out that their continuous National Insurance contributions gives them a princely £60.50 a week benefit. That is precisely the sum an individual gets who has never worked.

A relevant welfare reform bill would lay the basis for linking the size of this contributory JSA to a claimant's work record. Somebody who has worked continuously for five years would get double the payment and somebody, for example, working ten years would see the insurance benefit tripled.

The new arrivals to the benefit roles have work DNA'ed into their very being. They will be actively seeking work and will take work just as soon as they can. To encourage them to take risk with the next job they should be able to reactivate their old contribution record once they have been in work for thirteen continuous weeks - the definition the Government gives as a success in placing New Dealers in the job market.
New Deal for Young People becomes less successful as the months go by. Ten years ago it placed half of New Dealers into employment. Now two thirds fail to get a job.

This money, and the benefit money paid to single claimants under 25, should be used to finance a new green community programme. The one success of the Wilson Government in the eyes of the unemployed was a community programme that offered real jobs in their community to claimants.

Such a scheme cannot be run from the centre - (another big failure of the all the Government's welfare reform measures). Local authorities should be invited to initiate these programmes again with a special emphasis on protecting the environment and cutting fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

The age of supposedly training people to take one of the never ending new jobs is over. Serious welfare reform now is about creating some real jobs.
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