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"Tough love" in benefits overhaul

Andrew Neil | 11:08 UK time, Wednesday, 10 December 2008

benefits.jpgOn today's programme, we discuss the end of the "money for nothing" culture when it comes to welfare payments. The government has talked about welfare reform since it came to power in 1997 but so far has only tinkered with the system.

Gordon Brown and Tony Blair used to vow that "staying at home and doing nothing" would not be an option for the able-bodied of working age receiving welfare benefits, but it is clear that for many it is. So now ministers are promising "tough love" and a radical overhaul of the benefits system when today it publishes its White Paper on welfare reform.

Ministers are now saying that most claimants will have to do something in return for their benefits, though it is not quite clear what -- or when this will happen. Ministers are nervous about attacks from the poverty lobby and rebellions from their own backbenches. They also wonder privately about the efficacy of beginning real welfare-to-work reform, with a battery of serious carrots and sticks, at a time when work is going to be in short supply.

American welfare reform, which began in Wisconsin and was then rolled out across the country with largely bipartisan support was relatively simple: the state took on an obligation to train, educate and help find jobs; but in return if you were offered a job you had to take it, or lose your welfare benefits. The British version of welfare reform looks like being a lot more complicated and less clear cut. To that extent, it risks creating much sound and fury -- but not doing that much to reduce welfare rolls. We'll be looking at the arguments on today's show.

We'll also be discussing house prices, which continue to plummet. They are now over 16% down on their peak and could easily fall by that amount again. Bad news for home-owners, who judge their wealth -- and hence their propensity to consume -- by the value of their house. But good news for wanabee homeowners? Maybe - the fall in prices is a necessary correction to bring houses more in line with average earnings and lower interest rates make mortgages more affordable. But the defining feature of the current credit crunch is the lack of lending at any price. So houses and mortgages might be cheaper but that's no help if you can't get a mortgage in the first place. We'll be looking at mortgages and the latest repossession bail-out plan.

troops.jpgWe'll also be looking at Iraq. Senior Defence sources have disclosed that the last British troops will begin pulling out in March, with the last to leave Basra in June. But they won't be handing over entirely to the Iraqi authorities: it looks like they'll be replaced at Basra Airport by a large force of US troops, who will set up their own headquarters there. The Americans have long despaired at the British performance in the South; within the last year they and an Iraqi force had to clear the extremists out of Basra, after Britain effectively abandoned it (at least that's what the Americans and Iraqis think). Now it looks like the Americans have decided to use the British departure as the opportunity to do the job themselves. The Iraqi government seems to agree with this.

Also today, of course, it's show-down time at PMQs. So who has the X factor today? Nick Robinson will be joining us for all the live action at Noon.

And if that's not enough we're live from Sark, yes Sark, where they're holding their first elections in a very long time ... and we'll be talking apathy with Raza Jaffrey from Spooks.

Throughout the programme we'll have Europe Minster Caroline Flint and Conservative education spokesman, Michael Gove.

That's all on the Daily Politics today from 11.30am until 1pm. How could miss it?


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