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Matt Oakley: Breaking the link between welfare and crime

Matt Oakley is Head of Enterprise, Growth and Social Policy at Policy Exchange. He contributes this latest entry in our series examining how to lift young people off the conveyor belt to crime. To read all entries - so far covering early intervention, parenting, policing and gang culture, click on this link and scroll down the page.

This week’s labour market statistics has been used by some to argue that consistently high youth or long-term unemployment, or a lack of ‘decent’ job opportunities contributed to the scenes we saw across the UK last week. In some senses, this is right, but rather than being a cause of the problems, it seems more likely that youth and persistent unemployment is a reflection of the same underlying root problem.

Research from the Department for Work and Pensions has found that roughly 10% of benefit claimants feel that whether to be on benefits or in work should be a choice for them to make. Another 20% felt that life on benefits had advantages that made them less keen to go back to work. Other research shows that people claiming unemployment benefits spend as little as eight minutes a day looking for work.

In essence, a belief in a right a right to benefits has replaced the notions of self reliance and of responsibility to families and the community. Policy Exchange have consistently argued that although current reforms to the welfare state are positive, they will not be enough to re-build a system with responsibility and a sense of morality at its core. We outlined in a Report earlier this year that to do this would require that:

  • The contributory principle in welfare in re-established. This would mean building a strong link between what people put in to the state in taxes and National Insurance and what they are entitled to if they become unemployed;
  • Jobseekers should be expected to be engaged in activities related to jobsearch for the equivalent time of a full-time job; and
  • Sanctions should be linked to total benefit – but protect dependents by working through a system of benefit cards that limit the types of things those who are sanctioned can buy.

As well as this, the state also has a responsibility to ensure that those with legitimate barriers to work receive the support they need to help them to find sustainable and rewarding jobs. Policy Exchange will publish a report in early September showing that to do this the benefits system needs to assess the needs that claimants have and target support much more heavily on those with the greatest needs. This will require significant reform of how Jobcentre Plus works and of the links between Jobcentres and private providers in the new Work Programme. But no-one able to of work would have the excuse that they are not receiving the right support.

Polling in an earlier Policy Exchange report showed that the public believe in a welfare state where: those who contribute get more in return; benefit claimants have a moral obligation to do all they can to get back to work; and Government is tough on those who do not. In short, they want the state to work for the majority – those on benefits because they are caring for others or because they are unable to work; those on benefits and doing all they can to find work; and those in work struggling to provide for their families to get by – not the minority. They want their contributions to be recognised. A system like this would go some way to re-instating the responsibility and morality that were very much missing last week.


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