Conservative Diary

Welfare reform

30 May 2013 15:01:52

The EU Commission is the gift that keeps on giving

By Mark Wallace
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ThorIain Duncan Smith has received a special delivery: a big present, gift-wrapped in blue paper and yellow ribbon, sent direct from the EU Commission. 

The Eurocrats' latest wheeze is a legal case intended to strike down the restrictions used to prevent benefit tourists milking the British benefits system. Such a campaign is obviously outrageous - and deeply unpopular with taxpayers who are already concerned about some of their fellow Brits taking undue advantage of the welfare state.

IDS - and eurosceptics more generally - could not have asked for a more perfect goody.

He will "fight it all the way", apparently even to the point of appearing in court himself. He won't just thunder about this, expect him to have a full Thor outfit winging its way to his office on mail order. To slightly adjust the originally quote, the quiet man is smashing Brussels with a viking war hammer.

Continue reading "The EU Commission is the gift that keeps on giving" »

30 Apr 2013 08:26:28

IDS and universal credit. "They lied to him." Trouble with the civil service

By Paul Goodman
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In "Yes Minister", Sir Humphrey is infinitely more intelligent than Jim Hacker, and invariably tries to frustrate whatever changes the politician wants to make to the system - but, if given an instruction, he follows it: it would be against his sense of his professional pride for him not to do so.  Although I have been a politician, like Hacker, I have never - unlike him - been a Minister, and have presumed that the Jay & Lynn portrait of the civil service is broadly unchanged.  In other words, it may be an oligarchy in awe of its own self-perpetuation, but it is also an efficient and able one, in which the spirit of Northcote and Trevelyan still lingers.

Furthermore, I suspect that some of the reported problems with the civil service are actually the fault of politicians.  Too many Ministers don't seem to sail with a clear sense of direction.  This being so, they get pushed around by the wind and the waves: indeed, some seem more preoccupied by their image with journalists than delivery in office.  And those who complain about civil servants are, arguably, setting back reform rather than furthering it.  This is because the Government can't enact its programme smoothly and efficiently without the co-operation of the civil service, and picking a public scrap with it is, on the face of it, counter-productive.

Continue reading "IDS and universal credit. "They lied to him." Trouble with the civil service" »

8 Apr 2013 08:21:54

IDS and Osborne complain that the BBC isn't representing the majority view on welfare

By Tim Montgomerie
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The graph above comes from YouGov's Joe Twyman. It shows how supporters of ALL three parties agree that the benefit system needs "some significant" or "major" reforms. Overall, 70% of voters want changes. Five other YouGov findings (PDF) included:

  1. 63% thought the benefit system wasn't strict enough and is open to abuse and fraud - just 22% disagreed;
  2. 78% thought the £26,000 benefits cap was fair - just 10% thought it was unfair;
  3. 59% supported the 1% cap on benefits uprating - 28% did not;
  4. 78% thought there are at least a minority of cases who are abusing the benefits system;
  5. 61% thought child benefit should be limited to two children - 29% did not.

Continue reading "IDS and Osborne complain that the BBC isn't representing the majority view on welfare" »

6 Apr 2013 06:09:21

When IDS and his girlfriend were living in a single room with a one-ring gas oven

By Paul Goodman
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Duncan Smith September 2011It's characteristic of George Osborne, professional politician that he is, to have dodged the inevitable question this week on whether he could live on £53 a week, and also characteristic of Iain Duncan Smith, who is not a professional politician at all, to have confronted it.

Andrew Pierce of the Daily Mail, which is very supportive of the Work and Pensions Secretary, has a sympathetic interview with IDS today in which he describes his period as "an unemployed soldier returning home each day to his girlfriend’s tiny bedsit in a bleak Victorian house, trying not to lose hope at a time when unemployment levels were nudging to a post-war high of 3 million".

‘The honest truth is that I lived illegally with Betsy in the bedsit, trying to pretend I was not there. I didn’t have any money, which is why I tried to avoid the landlady,’ recalls Duncan Smith.

IDS and his future wife were living in one room with a one-ring gas oven, and had to keep the meter fed in case the gas ran out halfway through cooking dinner.  Each day he put on his only suit and went to the nearest job exchange - rather in the manner of Norman Tebbit's father, who famously got on his bike and looked for work - before going on to the library.

The man who is now Work and Pensions Secretary, and has been the party's leader, was never going to starve.  But Pierce's interview is a fascinating study of part of his life.  He has had his ups and downs, has IDS - more, I think, than most of his fellow Cabinet members.

Artless he may, but his quirky combination of spontaneity, social concern and doggedness have stood him in excellent stead in the welfare reform debate - so far.  As we've seen this week, it's livening up...and he has the Universal Credit to deliver.

3 Apr 2013 11:08:39

When it comes to Attack Dogs, Osborne's still a Big Beast

By Paul Goodman
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OSBORNE SWORDGeorge Osborne is no less a pupil of Gordon Brown than Ed Balls, at least when it comes to moving pieces on the political chessboard.  To change the image, Brown was a believer in "dividing lines" - gambits designed to throw his opponents on the defensive.  "Labour Investment versus Tory cuts".  "Labour's 50p rate versus Tory posh boys."  "Labour's NHS investment versus Tory privatisation plans."  Osborne usually swerved to avoid the traps, and has been lambasted for it - especially for his early decision as Shadow Chancellor to stick to Labour's spending plans.  But it's worth noting that after the single occasion when he walked knowingly into one, the party's poll ratings slumped, and the right didn't back him up.  I refer, of course, to the cut in the 50p rate.

Continue reading "When it comes to Attack Dogs, Osborne's still a Big Beast" »

2 Apr 2013 13:54:39

George Osborne’s “man of the people” speech

By Peter Hoskin
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First, George Osborne joined Twitter. Then there was his pub-ready Budget. Then there were tweets about football. And now, today, there’s a speech on jobs and welfare, delivered to the staff of a Morrisons depot in Kent. Not only is the Submarine Chancellor becoming more visible, but he’s also becoming less remote. Mr Osborne may never be The People’s Chancellor, but it seems as though there’s at least some effort in that direction.

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1 Apr 2013 17:18:30

The Big Bang that happened today

By Peter Hoskin
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Even though the Guardian and Mirror are overstating their collective case, today is still a day of momentous policy changes. You can see our quick checklist of the biggest – which includes a couple that didn’t make it into the Guardian’s main round-up – below. Although, before you do, it’s worth noting that there’s more to come later this month, from another increase in the personal allowance to the first trial of the Universal Credit. Here are today’s measures:

  • Introduction of a carbon price floor. This is, in HMRC’s own words, a “tax on fossil fuels used in the generation of electricity” – pour encourager energy companies to use less coal, oil and gas. The Government’s early analysis of the policy suggested that its financial implications would be minimal, for the Exchequer, businesses and individuals. Yet the Institute for Public Policy Research reckons that it could drive wholesale electricity prices up by 17 per cent  across the next few years, driving thousands into fuel poverty.
  • Changes to housing benefit. Whether you call it the “spare room subsidy” or the “bedroom tax”, the simple fact is this: housing benefit claimants who have one spare bedroom will have 14 per cent of their benefit removed, rising to 25 per cent for two or more spare bedrooms. It’s expected to save the Exchequer around half-a-£billion each year – from a total housing benefit bill of £17 billion – provided it can be administered successfully.
  • A new system of financial regulation. The Financial Services Authority has been whacked, and two new regulatory bodies birthed in its place. The Prudential Regulation Authority is there to “promote the safety and security” of financial institutions. The Financial Conduct Authority will keep an eye on the City’s behaviour, trying to spot – and stop – the sort of dodginess that led to, say, the Libor scandal. The whole shebang will be overseen by the Bank of England’s Financial Policy Committee, another example of the power accumulating on Threadneedle Street.
  • The main rate of corporation tax falls to 23 per cent. From 24 per cent, of course. The Coalition plans to reduce it further still, to 20 per cent, by the next election.
  • Cuts to legal aid. The Government hopes to save £350 million from the £2.2 billion legal aid bill. That will be achieved, in main part, by lowering the cut-off point for aid to a household income of £32,000 a year. There will also be more detailed means tests for those earning between £14,000 and £32,000. Here’s an article written in 2010, by ConHome’s own Harry Phibbs, on the cuts and their scale.
  • NHS commissioning reforms. Hmm, you may just have heard about these NHS reforms before. They’re the ones by which clinical commissions groups – made up mainly of GPs – steer the work of the health service. As Max Pemberton puts it in a useful article in today’s Telegraph, “They will be responsible for organising and paying for care, and deciding who will provide it”. This was controversial enough when the idea was conceived, but now it seems to have attracted another swarm of opposition. Today’s Mail highlights and attacks the possibility of GPs “awarding themselves” lucrative contracts.
  • Changes to council tax benefit. Council tax benefit reduces any claimant’s council tax bill. The DWP has traditionally administered it, but now it’s asking councils to sort it out themselves – along with a 10 per cent reduction in funding. What this means for current claimants mostly depends on what their local authorities decide. The Scottish Government along with Scottish councils is, for instance, stumping up £40 million to bridge the “funding gap”.

1 Apr 2013 08:27:40

The Guardian’s and Mirror’s front pages are overblown, but…

By Peter Hoskin
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It’s not just Easter Monday and ConservativeHome’s eighth birthday, readers – it’s also “the day Britain changed”. Or at least according to the Guardian it is. That’s how their front page headline reads. And it gets even weightier in the standfirst. A “new world heaves into view this week,” apparently. It is “the reference point from which everything else will be measured”.

Why so serious? The front page of the Daily Mirror has more. A cartoon shows David Cameron, Margaret Thatcher and Nick Clegg looking on as George Osborne hammers a nail into a coffin, and on the coffin a scrap of paper reads “RIP Welfare”. This is about the policies – from the benefit s cap to the legal aid cuts – that are being introduced over the next few weeks.

It is, of course, all rather overblown. Is this the reference point from which “everything else” will be measured? Is the welfare state dead? Err, no. For starters, as Iain Duncan Smith was keen to point out over the weekend, “all those on benefits will still see cash increases in every year of the Parliament”.

Continue reading "The Guardian’s and Mirror’s front pages are overblown, but…" »

29 Mar 2013 08:44:28

Labour gambles on Universal Credit failing

By Harry Phibbs
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Three of the four Universal Credit pilots due to start in April have been postponed to July. It might sound a modest delay but the Labour Party is gleeful. Liam Byrne, the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary says:

"This scheme is now on the edge of disaster."

That sounds like hyperbole to me. However, no doubt any computer glitches will be seized upon. If there are, Labour should not be too smug in bemoaning Ministerial incompetence - it was Labour Ministers who presided over the waste of a staggering £12 billion for an NHS computer system that didn't work. 

Yet let us suppose just for a moment that whatever technical difficulties emerge can be overcome. Suppose that there will be some bad publicity for the Government, with individual cases of benefits being delayed. Prompting increased demand for foodbanks - but despite this embarrassment, the Government press ahead. The prize is considerable. A system is established whereby those who work are better off than those who don't. This is not just right politically and economically, but also morally.

The fourth commandment tells us not to work on the sabbath, but it also says we should work the rest of the time.

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25 Mar 2013 00:01:00

Cameron promises three-fold crackdown on immigration

By Tim Montgomerie
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Screen Shot 2013-03-24 at 19.31.27

Yesterday morning I blogged some general thoughts on Cameron's immigration speech that he'll give later today. We now have some more detail on the PM's prepared remarks.

His speech will have three themes overall: (i) Cutting immigrants' access to benefits; (ii) ending 'something for nothing' benefits'; and (iii) cracking down on illegal immigration.

Continue reading "Cameron promises three-fold crackdown on immigration" »