Tuesday, January 27, 2009

BREAKING: Frank Field MP Calls For Time Limited Benefits

A couple of weeks ago Frankie was calling for plans to be hatched - just in case - for a government of national unity. His co-panelists such as David Steele rather teased him over it all. Poor Frank. Now he's written a paper for Reform, for which independent think tank he is an Advisory Board member. He probably advised them to publish his paper:

"Time-limited benefits can help fight the recession" ...

Is Frank's bold and very likely even-more-unpopular-with-Labour-than-James-Purnell's claim. Indeed Franko claims the Welfare Reform Bill - being debated in the House of Commons today (Tuesday) - is based on toothless sanctions that will not help people back into employment. And he suggests that a radical programme of time-limited, contribution-based benefits and locally devolved community programmes would allow welfare to become an important weapon in fighting surging unemployment.

The paper, Help! Refashioning welfare reform to help fight the recession, finds that at the height of the last recession, before Labour's welfare to work strategy was
created, more people were leaving unemployment benefit than were at the height of
the most recent economic boom. At a time of rising unemployment, therefore, welfare
reform is more important than ever.

Repeating his familiar burden and currying favour with his many Tory admirers Field claims that The New Deal has been a spectacular and expensive failure, costing £75 billion over the past decade but reducing the number of benefit claimants by only 400,000.

As usual this arithmetic seems pretty duff and a tad misleading. The population of working age has I think increased considerably in this period, one way and another. So the glass half empty approach of reduced claimants may be less informative than the glass half full one of considering total workforce.

But, bashing on, Field claims a new approach is needed, echoing Bill Clinton's 1996 reforms which cut welfare rolls by two thirds.

The key pillars of Field's proposed reform are:

* Time-limiting benefits for under 25s who have never worked and linking this reform to the advent of a green community programme;

* Reforming the National Insurance system so that workers with a longer record of work receive higher contribution-based Jobseeker's Allowance if made redundant;

* Freeing the Jobcentre Plus network from central control, allowing people who understand the local job market to help claimants back into work whilst combating benefit fraud; and,

* Abolishing the use of training as a sanction, restoring its value and prestige.

So far, so "not too mad". Frank Field MP says: "The Government is debating welfare reform whilst standing on the burning ship. With over-bubbling phrases and good intent the Government has set upon a strategy that will defeat its goal.

"A radical Government would withdraw this Bill and replace it with serious welfare reform as one means of overcoming the recession".

Elizabeth Truss, Deputy Director of Reform, said: "We have had eleven years of talk
of welfare reform. Will the Government now be brave enough at the crucial moment to
act seriously on its rhetoric?"

Now now Elizabeth. And Frank too. The Government believe they are seizing the day and walking the talk. What they've got is unpopular enough with Labour grass roots and meeja without adding the Field magic to the mix.

PDF DOWNLOAD: The report from Field and his researcher Patrick White can be downloaded right here. Or you could wait for welfare and blogging expert Iain Dale to explain it for you as he surely will.


gary said...

Frank Field is living in a world full of misty visions, this idea of setting time limits has just created even more hardship in America where it was first put into play, more child poverty, food tokens, instead of attacking the less fortunate Mr Field why dont you MPs sort out all the corruption and fraud amongst MPs and Lords.

Miller 2.0 said...

Does Frank Field only ever right for right-wing organisations?

Will blog this tomorrow morning.