Thursday, May 17, 2007

A Very Good Idea

Peter Cuthbertson hits on a very good idea over at the ConservativeHome Platform. I read Frank Field MP's report on Monday and wrote it up for the TaxPayers' Alliance blog. Peter is absolutely right that Field is not only very angry at Brown (one reason he might take the job if offered it) but also has solutions in mind for the welfare system that conservatives should be very sympathetic to.

I also think this might highlight the best side of project Cameron. I worry that the Cameron revolution is becoming a thoughtless, reflexive centrism. However, Cameronism at its best is a much needed opening of the Conservative Party's mind.

At first, in co-operation with Iain Duncan Smith, who came into his own after losing the leadership, Cameron encouraged the party to think again about how we help British society and the family. David Davis was thinking some very interesting thoughts about civic renewal. The party stopped opposing Labour measures that were an improvement over the status quo just because in an ideal world we could do better.

Appointing Frank Field would be a return to Cameronism at its best. Accepting that he is doing some excellent thinking about welfare reform from the Labour benches. Tell the public, with complete justification, that Brown isn't willing to tackle welfare reform seriously and a serious thinker about reform should only be at home in the Conservative Party. Even if Field says no it would still say something very positive about how open Cameron is to good ideas.


Vino S said...

Frank Field's most interesting points (that he first made in the 80s) was the problems caused by means-testing. It was actually a Conservative government that led to more people being on means-tested benefits - due to higher unemployment and a greater number of people in low-paid work.

To end means-testing, he wants to move back to some of the universalistic benefits laid out by Beveridge - child benefit, state pension etc. To do this to such a level as to make universal benefits on their own _sufficient to raise people above the poverty line_ is actually very expensive. I would thus doubt that any future Tory government would actually be willing to raise taxes or cut spending in other areas enough to fund universal benefits that will be sufficient to support poor families.

Another good example of where Field's proposals sound good but are expensive is on benefits for single parents. He wants to make it so that a couple get the same benefits if they live together as if they live separately [currently this isn't the case, they get less as the DSS thinks 2 can live cheaper than 1]. However, to raise the benefit for couples to twice that of single people would cost quite a bit. i think it is a good idea, but one that can only really be implemented by a government of the left since it would need higher taxes to fund this.

Matthew Sinclair said...

Eh? The recommendations in his Reform report:

Implement the New Deal from day one of unemployment. The largest unemployed group are those registered up to 6 months prior to the New Deal kicking in;
 Devolve employment schemes and budget powers to local offices giving them the ability to promote individual programmes. Individual members of staff should be financially rewarded for successful employment outcomes and extra resources should go to successful local offices to expand further
their entrepreneurial ideas in getting hard to place young people off the benefit rolls and into work;
 Local offices should be encouraged to work with any organisation or firm offering successful employment programmes for young people, but the choice of which partners to use should be left totally in the hands of the local offices; and
 Embrace time-limiting benefit where there has been continuous expansion in jobs. Now is the time to match job opportunities with responsibilities. Pilots should be rolled out time-limiting benefit entitlement for all new young JSA
claimants in areas where there has been sustained growth in employment.

Matthew Sinclair said...

Apart from implementing the New Deal more quickly that's a very right-wing package of reforms: more performance based pay, time limiting benefits and less centralised state policy.

Vino S said...

I was going on Frank Field's earlier writings where he does indeed attack means-testing and call for two-parent families to get more cash.

A good criticism of the Frank Field report that you are referring to can be found on Unity's blog -

Matthew Sinclair said...

Unity's analysis is actually a bit weak. I'd have attempted a rebuttal had I seen it at the time. He's right that Frank Field didn't include a detailed analysis relating into population trends, however, he didn't for a reason.

Over the last decade we've seen a strong growth performance. All else being equal that should lead to a strong youth unemployment performance. This provides another factor that Unity doesn't take account of. There will be a host of others.

You could attempt a detailed economic analysis and try to sift for the New Deal's effectiveness. That would be a very legitimate but very challenging project that neither Unity nor Field have attempted. Or you can accept the basic logic that with a strong economy and a successful reform of attempts to get the young into work the basic numbers should improve. That is what Field does.

Also, he doesn't deal with Field's arguments about retreads which is essential as it is a part of his explanation of why the New Deal became less effective.