From Sheffield Welfare Action Network (SWAN)
When Tony Blair came to power, he asked the iconoclastic Labour MP and Minister For Welfare Reform, Frank Field to ‘think the unthinkable’ on welfare reform: although the welfare regime has certainly got much harder/brutal for claimants and more stressful for DWP workers, his plans largely came to nothing However, The Freud Review commissioned by Tony Blair and endorsed by Gordon Brown and undertaken by investment banker David Freud, full title: ‘Reducing Dependency, Increasing Opportunity: options for the future of welfare to work’* has put the unthinkable right back on the agenda.
Just as privatisation of the NHS was once ‘unthinkable’ and so far out of mainstream political thinking and is now proceeding apace: now welfare reform is to undergo the same process. Policies that would have been fiercely resisted by opposition parties if carried out by the Thatcher Govt are now routinely passed by parliament. There would appear to be a consensus across the main political parties that drastic welfare reform is needed. Combined with the draconian Welfare Reform Bill its clear now that we are seeing the biggest structural changes in welfare since the 1940’s; indeed, there are now clear similarities between the Freud Review proposals and President Clinton's seminal 1996 welfare reforms which have been such a disaster for the poor in the U.S.
The key proposals in the Freud review which in our view are just as draconian and unjust and unworkable as the WRB include:
*Single parents with children aged over 11 will have to seek jobs or else face potential benefit sanctions,
*increased privatisation with private employment companies offered bounties if they can keep claimants, whether lone parents or others such as those on incapacity benefit, in work for at least three years. Claimants would lose benefits if they left a brokered job before that time
*‘Intensive mentoring’ by involved agencies which could mean advisers pressuring claimants by constantly ringing them up at up home or even visiting them in their homes.
*Greater use of private and voluntary sector resources and expertise so harder-to-help benefit claimants receive more employment support.
From this perspective: welfare will be run akin to high pressure sales teams where putative Willie Lomax’s (Death Of A Salesman) will aspire to ‘reach their targets’ their targets being disabled people, single mothers and the unemployed again forced into work or training. One very worrying ‘incentive’ in this review towards an ‘activist’ welfare system is the notion that if you leave a job which these ‘proactive agencies’ have procured you before three years, you can lose your right to benefits, yes, three years, they can come after you after that long.
There have been a number of criticisms of these reforms, with even the nominally centre right think tank: the Social Market Foundation criticising some of its assumptions: asserting in a report by Stephen Evans that:
'Full employment cannot be achieved by castigating and stigmatising those out of work. Instead, the focus needs to be on supporting people – this approach is proven to work.”
An open letter was also sent to the media from a number of grassroots groups and individuals including SWAN strongly criticizing the review(see swan website)
Swan urges all colleagues, friends and allies to challenge these draconian and unjust reforms, we especially call on unions, the TUC, activists and the wider labour movement to reject these reforms and support campaigns which seek to challenge them.
* One should note this paean to the’ unthinkable’ was conjured up in just over 10 weeks, never mind that it will profoundly affect the lives of millions for many many years to come.
The BBC link below has more details of review