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Something for nothing

Betsan Powys | 06:58 UK time, Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Later today James Purnell, the Work and Pensions Secretary, will unveil the UK government's plans to reform the welfare system.

The language is one of sanctions and penalties, more stick than carrot.

The aim is to get a million people off benefits and back into some form of work. If you turn down a reasonable job offer, turn down or fail to turn up for interview, then you'll face losing some of the benefits you were due or be asked to do some sort of mandatory community service.

If you're on incapacity benefit then you'll be expected to show that you're preparing to get back into work. In other words, as Mr Purnell has put it, he wants to make sure - particularly now that economic times are tough - that "there aren't people in a boat not rowing".

Yesterday the First Minister told me that he'd sat down with James Purnell and talked him through the Assembly Government's objections to his plans - objections that almost spill out of the latest Welsh Assembly Government cabinet papers published. He started out talking about rhetoric, about the implication that people who don't have jobs, who take home sickness or incapacity benefit are "tagged or stigmatised as scroungers".
Some of the policies themselves being suggested were, he said, very sensible and perfectly reasonable but they way they'd been talked about - now there he differed from Mr Purnell.

But the objections spelled out in the cabinet papers run deeper than rhetoric. Welsh Ministers are worried that families who are already vulnerable and in debt will get deeper into debt. They're worried that will have an impact on crime. They're worried about the impact of the rule changes on those with mental health conditions.

They're worried about cost: that the Assembly Government could end up footing the bill for many of the new skills development programmes and careers advice from within its own budget. That could "stretch Assembly Government resources".

And all of this the First MInister had conveyed to the Work and Pensions Secretary. The telling line - the one that took Welsh ministerial objections way beyond rhetoric - was this one: "Clearly, whether you are going to actively participate in the labour market to some extent is determined by your perception of whether there are lots of jobs available, and that's going to be very different if you live in Mountain Ash than if you live on the outskirts of London".

In other words if you live near London you'll know that there'll be job opportunities there somewhere if you go looking. If you live in Mountain Ash, then you don't. After ten years of a Labour government in Wales, whose fault is that the Conservatives might ask? In fact Chris Grayling, the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, has already asked the UK government why it is that young people are finding it ever tougher to "do better than their parents ... For ten years the government has been telling us it has the policies to solve the problem. But it hasn't worked".

The changes to the benefit system will of course apply equally across the UK - the benefit system isn't devolved - but one size, Rhodri Morgan had argued, does not fit all.

And there, in the cabinet papers, Welsh Ministers suggest doing something about it. Why not, they propose, pilot a different system in Wales, one that perhaps involves incentivising work? Where the rhetoric at least is more carrot than stick, where the "intervention regime" is most appropriate to Wales?

That sounds to me like a proposal for a very different benefit system in Wales to the one James Purnell will be unveiling this afternoon - the kind of proposal that will have the proverbial eyebrows in Westminster well and truly raised.


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  • 1. At 10:08am on 10 Dec 2008, BLUESNIK wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 2. At 11:01am on 10 Dec 2008, mapexx wrote:

    Seems we've been here before.

    Many years ago when I occasionally signed on between shipyard jobs, I often received a 'green' card from the Labour exchange, which told me to visit this or that employer for an interview.

    I could 'turn down' about three of those possible jobs, but had to attend the interviews. Failure to take the next job meant I lost my dole for thirteen weeks.

    Then sometime ago, quite few years by now, the system was changed , under the Tories as I recall, so that as long as you 'signed on, once a fortnight, you kept your dole for thirteen weeks, after which you went on social security, or as we knew it the UAB.

    So now it's back to the old routine, take a job or lose your benefit.

    As it seems to be targeted at young women (?) maybe the time has come to prevent the feckless from becoming pregnant in order to sop up all the benefits on offer.

    It's all well and good aiming for those with kids over 12 yrs old, but apparently will do nothing about the 12 to 18 yr olds who get in the family way with little legal restriction on those under the age of consent.

    I see also that the 'pill' is to be dished out like Smarties, by pharmacists, as though that will decrease the teenage birthrate.

    Some hopes.

    That band will use the pill only if compelled, as they see pregnancy as a means to an end, getting accommodation, and the full plethora of SS benefits.

    IF the state is so concerned about either of the groups mentioned above, then it must take draconian actions that are just and fair, and more to the point, seen to be so.

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  • 3. At 12:45pm on 10 Dec 2008, BLUESNIK wrote:

    At 10:08am on 10 Dec 2008, BLUESNIK (Marxist Cynic )

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.


    "....a (Nazi) German phrase meaning "work brings freedom" or "work shall set ... literally in English, "work makes (one) free"."



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  • 4. At 1:44pm on 10 Dec 2008, AlexisWolf wrote:

    About time too. There's to many carreer benefit claimants who were encouraged by Thatcher to go on IB so as to keep them off the unemployed stats. These people are now stuck in a rut, are work-shy and unhappy.
    'Encouraging' them to at least prepare for a job they CAN do {if and when one comes along} will only be good for them and they're mental/physical health. I know of too many that are in fact working very hard at NOT working!... what a waste.
    No one wants to see benefits withdrawn from debt ridden hopeless cases, just some healthy 'encouragement' to do something with their lives.

    On another note..

    Mapexx writes, "that dishing out the pill like Smarties wouldn't decrease the birth rate"

    Well Mapexx.
    It works in other countries eg Holland

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  • 5. At 1:57pm on 10 Dec 2008, lordBeddGelert wrote:

    I really don't see what the fuss is about.

    They want people to be actively looking for work - this is the regime now, although maybe not enforced in the same way.

    If there is no work in Mountain Ash, why should the taxpayer have to pay benefits for an indefinite period [ a 'blank cheque' ] when most sensible people would move to find work.

    This is what would happen in America. It is called a 'market economy'. Or people could set up their own businesses, if it weren't for the fact that EU and UK bureaucracy has made this all but impossible.

    How did we sleepwalk to a situation where well over a million people are on what used to be known as 'incapacity benefit' ? If this had been addressed years ago, instead of 'shooting the messenger', Frank Field, there might have been less of a 'pull factor' for migration from Eastern Europe as there would have been fewer vacancies on the job market. Some people are going to have to 'wake up and smell the coffee' quickly.

    If Labour imagine they can 'camouflage' their inability to make Wales a 'Celtic Tiger' economy by having a raft of people on the benefits trap, while they gladhand down in Cardiff Bay with developers of vanity projects, then they had better 'catch themselves on' pdq... And that goes for Plaid as well with their asinine obsession with a hundred-and-one things that have nowt to do with getting the Welsh economy moving.

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  • 6. At 2:27pm on 10 Dec 2008, AlexisWolf wrote:


    Your 'Market economy' or 'Get on yer bike' politics sees people commuting miles to do a job in one town and another commuting the other way to work in the other town, that is just wasteful and breaks up families and communities. I would wager there's people commuting into Mountain Ash when there's a healthy population that copuld be trained to work.

    How did we sleepwalk into this situation? see my above post on Thatchers underhand trickery to keep Herself in power for 18 years, we're going to be 'paying off' Her legacy for a long, long time if we can EVER get the family silver back at all.

    I do agree though with most of what you write!

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  • 7. At 2:56pm on 10 Dec 2008, BLUESNIK wrote:

    BTW ~ I thought Peter Hain's (ex DWP) er., contribution to this debate (R.Wales) this morning) was superb!

    Hey, nothing like an undeclared benefit career scrounger (£100k, donation) repenting to get the heavy squad on yo' evil case! not! WE are watching YOU!

    "A fair day's donation for a fair day's tan" ~ Neath Miner's slogan/A.J. Hain (2008)


    Happy Xmas Betsan..or as we Marxist-Druids say...""the Capitalist neo-liberal Cymru conjuncture will collapse in your tickets."

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  • 8. At 3:25pm on 10 Dec 2008, lordBeddGelert wrote:

    alexiswolf4 - yes, but people could actually move to a new locality to work, and not have to travel, were it not for the ridiculous 'boom and bust' property market in this country which has reduced both geographic and social mobility.

    In some ways that has been good for Wales, as increasing property values deterred people from indulging in environmentally unfriendly 'long distance commuting'.

    But if property values in, say, Neath, Bridgend and Swansea collapse to half the values in, say, central Cardiff, that could all change.

    But the idea that people could exist on benefits for periods greater than 2 or even 3 years is a fool's paradise. I don't necessarily want the country to be like the US of A - but over there people have to work 2 or even 3 jobs to afford somewhere to live, something to eat and even a very basic level of healthcare - and 50 million Americans still fall through the net.

    As their car industry is suddenly beginning to realise people in the globalised world are going to have to work competitively for wages that are sensible, and make some form of provision for old age - expecting the 'other guy' to pick up the tab long term is just not going to work. People who made long term plans based on assumptions that can't be sustained can't just go burying their head in the sand 'ostrich-like'.

    And for the First Minister Rhodri Morgan to try and fool those people into thinking that this reality is not going to hit Wales, when it is being implemented by HIS PARTY is just taking self-deluded ignorance to a new level.

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  • 9. At 3:48pm on 10 Dec 2008, lordBeddGelert wrote:

    Note also that Glasgow [under a devolved assembly...] is embracing these changes - why isn't the 'Welsh Assembly Government'??

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  • 10. At 4:38pm on 10 Dec 2008, Crossroads wrote:

    Sorry I don't have the equivalent Welsh figures,but here goes.

    The following are the latest UK.GOVT. figures.

    Number on Incapacity benefit..2.7 million.

    Number on unemployment benefit 1.82 million (expected to rise to approx. 3 million during the next year)

    Number of UK notifiable vacancies..490,000 (this number expecred to fall sharply to around 150,000 in the next year)

    JUST DO THE SUMS....Don't add up they?

    There just aren't any jobs. If every vacancy was filled tomorrow by people on unemployment benefit, that would still leave around 1.4 million (probably reaching 2.5 million by next year) still on the 'dole'.

    Thats without even starting on the 2.7million incapacity benefit claimants. . . . .AND ALL THE VACANCIES FILLED !

    This whole farce is being played out purely and simply as a sop to Daily Mail readers and suchlike.

    Many have watched the demonization of those on benefits, cunningly stage managed by this government. Brown has recruited the appalling James Purnell as his (disposable) henchman to manage all this.

    I am however pleased with the humane attitude shown by Rhodri Morgan and the Assembly over this.

    Keep it up lads, I may even change my "Noah Sembly" persona if this carries on.

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  • 11. At 5:02pm on 10 Dec 2008, lordBeddGelert wrote:

    "Keep it up lads, I may even change my "Noah Sembly" persona if this carries on. "

    Calm down, dear.. as Michael Winner might say.

    The whole point is that because of the wage structure in this country, it is better and cheaper for employers to have staff working on 'high salaries' but having to work lots of unpaid overtime, or working incredibly intensively, than taking on more staff.

    If we had been less generous with benefits over the years, that might have focused minds on those making wage settlements, as there would have been more competition, and less of the need to 'keep parity' above what 'benefits' offered.

    I have just been watching a film on the BBC where a woman with 4 children says that she hasn't got the time to go back to work.

    Err - how did we arrive at a situation where she has this choice ? And assumed before having the 4 children, that unlike others who have 4 kids, that she might have to work to support them ?

    There is an awful mindset that there is a sort of 'equality money tree' out there which will 'cut and fill' inequality hills and valleys to flatten income across the board.

    This mindset just doesn't exist in the States - If you have 10 kids - then you are going to have to pay for them. People are just being insulated from having responsibility for their actions and life choices which in Presbyterian non-conformist Wales is just absolutely ridiculous.

    I got a bit 'hot under the collar' with Simon Jenkins on the radio earlier this week for suggesting that Wales had a 'victim culture' [how very dare he !] but after the Rhodri Morgan tosh, I am beginning to have some sympathy for that viewpoint.

    Of course, it could be that it helps Rhodri put some clear red water between him and any responsibility he might have has as the First Minister for allowing this situation to arise.

    The day is soon coming when, love them or loathe them, the Tories will be back in power and Wales can kiss goodbye to EU Farm Subsidies and the Benefits Culture.

    The WAGs had better pull their finger out and start preparing for that day - NOW !!!

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  • 12. At 6:55pm on 10 Dec 2008, Crossroads wrote:


    No response whatsoever to the all important statistics, I see.

    The almost constant flow of 'chav' types portrayed in certain sections of the media, has tended to strengthen the governments propaganda campaign.

    Those who readily believe in urban myths, and who take no little delight in having a pop at societies left-overs must beware.

    For as sure as night follows day, there will be a terrible price to pay for all this. Those millions of people, who will shortly be losing even their £60/£80 a week benefit riches, will seek revenge in two ways.

    One will be at the ballot box, the other will result in levels of overtime our police officers had previously only ever dreamt about.

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  • 13. At 8:12pm on 10 Dec 2008, lordBeddGelert wrote:

    Noah, I don't have a problem with you using figures - but my argument is that it might be missing the point.

    Even if one accepts that the numbers are correct, my argument is that different people will come to different conclusions about what policies they dictate.

    The Russian approach would be that no-one can be out of work, and they would be sent off to the salt mines or whatever.

    The American approach would simply be that 'the devil takes the hindmost'. Wages would have to drop / people work harder until the corporations, who have minimal regulation, would hire more people. Of course, this has fallen flat in the current credit crunch.

    The European model seems to be to look at the figures and say, 'There Is No Alternative - These people must therefore be on benefits for the next 5/10/15 years until unemployment drops to zero'.

    No one [and I concede that this includes Labour who are introducing the plans] and discover WHY there are too few jobs, or even in some cases 'skill shortages' or why there is a mis-match between where people are located and where the jobs are.

    Neither is anyone [including the Tories] taking an axe to the plans by saying that the current 'Job Centre' process does not reward staff sufficiently for getting people back to work, or do a thorough enough analysis of why people are out of work, how they can re-train, upskill or eliminate the blockers to getting a job.

    Big corporations hire expensive 'outplacement' companies when bankers, for example, are being fired. Woolworths has no such facility. Nor do Borg Warner.

    If the Welsh Assembly Government means anything it means recognising that these are areas which need developing, rather than just saying 'TINA' to the status quo, and that people will just have to survive on benefits with 'tea and sympathy', rather than PRACTICAL ACTION.

    The next Assembly elections are not all that far away. If someone like Kirsty Williams could galvanize local government and the private sector to pick up the cudgels for this fight, they might reap an amazing harvest of votes as people who actually got off their backsides and DID SOMETHING for the people of Wales, rather than play the old 'blamestorming' game against Westminster.

    Or waste yet more time, resource and effort on introverted naval gazing LCO claptrap.

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  • 14. At 8:19pm on 10 Dec 2008, lordBeddGelert wrote:

    Sorry, Noah..
    "Those millions of people, who will shortly be losing even their ?60/?80 a week benefit riches, will seek revenge in two ways."

    Again, fair point - but I don't think this is really the situation. Purnell for all his faults is setting out the groundwork, and this is not hitting the whole population as a 'Big Bang' on 1st Jan 09

    This is a long term plan, and clearly is rather predicated on the jobs situation not being at its depressed level for the next 5 years. Well, we hope not...

    Crikey - I'm sounding like a Labour apologist here, which is terrible...

    I just think we need to face up to the harsh realities that we can't bankroll a failed generation of people written off by society.

    Well, okay, we could - but having just sent the thick end of a trillion quid down the toilet on banking bailouts and the like - well the party's over and the hangover may be about to begin.

    However annoying that might be -we have to face facts and deal with it as best we can - and helping people to develop their skills and get them trained so that when [or IF..] the upswing kicks in then WELSH workers of whatever colour or creed, will be well placed to take advantage of that..

    Does anyone here believe that would happen of its own accord, without a bit of 'carrot and stick' ??

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  • 15. At 10:08am on 11 Dec 2008, Crossroads wrote:


    10. At 4:38pm on 10 Dec 2008, Noah_sembly wrote:
    Sorry I don't have the equivalent Welsh figures,but here goes.

    The following are the latest UK.GOVT. figures.

    Number on incapacity benefit..2.7 million.

    Number on unemployment benefit 1.82 million (expected to rise to approx. 3 million during the next year)

    Number of UK notifiable job vacancies..490,000 (this number expecred to fall sharply to around 150,000 in the next year)

    JUST DO THE SUMS....Don't add up do they?


    The point I was trying to make was that on the above figures, the total number of job vacancies would be filled (relatively quickly), presumably from the vast numbers of unemployed. Once this has happened you will note there will still well over 1.5 million still on the dole.

    What the hell is the point in then bringing all those on incapacity benefit into the process of having to look for/find employment when, on the government's own admission and figures, THERE WILL BE NO JOBS !!!!

    The fact is, that the UK has just not got the economic activity required to employ any more workers.

    Oh sure, we can follow the Welsh public sector way, which means featherbedding our local authorities and Assembly offices, with clerical workers being paid many times the benefit levels and doing what in effect are 'non-jobs'.
    This though, I can assure you would be far, far more expensive to operate than the present benefit system.

    Sounds dramatic I agree, but the rioting and civil disorder will happen, and on a level and intensity never before seen in this country. The government and the police already know this, a clue being the handing out of tens of thousands of electric shock taser stun guns. The police (including for the first time ever, armed officers )are also carrying out dramatically increased levels of crowd/riot control training.

    And did I mention the crime rate?

    Merry Christmas !!!!!!

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  • 16. At 10:47am on 11 Dec 2008, mapexx wrote:

    Message 4...I hope you are not going to be one of those who just love to respond to my comments by the use of 'taking things out of context'
    What I wrote has little to do with the Netherlands birth rate.
    The simple fact is, the TEENAGE birth rate in the UK, especially Wales, is one of the highest in the western hemisphere.
    You totally missed that very important word..'TEENAGE'... out of your sting in the tail of message 4 did you not?
    Deliberate?, or was it omission by error?

    Either way, it effectively gave a totally different meaning to your comment than appeared in mine.

    Now to refer to Holland...

    The presumption that it does not happen in Holland is just that, a presumption.

    Maybe dishing out the contraceptive pill. or indeed condoms, may 'work' in Holland, but theirs is rather different cultural situation.

    They, the Dutch, being a relatively much smaller country, with a fair degree of Christian Protestantism that has been retained somewhat, more so than in this country, family is less disturbed and fractured.

    They have a relatively high employment rate and consequent work ethic, which keeps the bulk of their teenagers off the streets and benefit/welfare registers.

    Idle hands (bodies) tend to find things to do when cash is in short supply, and a rolling take on sexual enterprise comes naturally to many of our kids, because there is no moral imperative left today for them to refer to.

    A pregnant teenager gets the full whack of social benefits, all the medical help necessary and a hands off treatment by family, social services and police (in cases of under age sexual activity).

    The state has removed the stigma of illegitimacy, which compounds the situation.

    Is this the way of the society existing in Holland?

    I don't think so.

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  • 17. At 05:10am on 27 Dec 2008, dennisjunior1 wrote:

    it is has to be a carrot and stick approach towards the reforming the benefits system...

    ~Dennis Junior~

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