By Maeve McGoldrick
This years welfare policy isn’t exactly an election winner for 2015, we need something better than just more cuts.
Today Liam Byrne, shadow welfare minister, shared Labour’s ideas on welfare – which would be implemented if they are to be elected in 2015. When asked for more details on his policies this morning on BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, Mr Byrne said he would develop childcare policies, support unemployed young people and provide more help for disabled people to work. He talked about the levels of debt that an incoming administration would inherit in 2015 as government is still spending more than the nation can afford … therefore justifying a future welfare cuts agenda.
Community Links staff attended the Liberal Democrat Party Conference in Brighton last week, we are at the Labour Conference today and we will be attending the Conservative Conference next week. The Liberal Democrats presented no new thinking on welfare policy; and defended much of the current reform agenda despite many party members being very critical of the impact that Universal Credit would have on disabled people.
The Conservative Party will no doubt present similar rhetoric about the need for further cuts to welfare spending combined with support for existing policy proposals such as Universal Credit.
It’s extremely unfortunate that each of the parties conflate the need to cut expenditure with welfare reform policies. There is a real need for reform which is distinct from the need for a reduction in expenditure. Investment is needed to modernise the support services available to both unemployed people and people in low-paid employment.
In particular Community Links strongly believes that we need to invest in an improved, personalised jobcentre and employment support programmes. All of the political parties are shying away from the obvious – that support services still need reform. Yet we have no evidence from any of the parties of worked through polices on how to do this.
We have brought together experts from the welfare-to-work world and we’ve been briefing ministers on our personalisation agenda; an idea we believe would transform employment support services into excellent and effective provision.
Simply repeating the same cuts narrative for the next three years is unsustainable. The test for welfare reform at the 2015 election is innovative, solution-focused thinking – at the moment we are not getting this from any of the political parties.
We have a wealth of knowledge and experience from successfully delivering frontline employment services, and along with other fantastic organisations in this sector; we have come up with a number of suggestions on personalisation of welfare reform that we believe each of the parties with a serious desire to should be including in their election manifestos.
We need to see parties thinking outside the box and developing welfare support polices from a cross-departmental perspective. An unemployed person with acute barriers to work often requires support from more than one government department. We need to develop a programme of personalised support, based on shared budgets and outcomes. There is money out there, but it is all caught up in departmental silos. Imagine if a political party, or even better all three of them, were bold enough to commit to making this happen. That’s what we will be lobbying for over the next few years, starting next Monday with the Employment Related Services Association’s (ERSA) fringe event discussion at the Conservative Party conference.
Welfare policy should be less about welfare cuts and more about new and better ways of managing government spending. It’s not about more or less money; it should be about using the existing money more skillfully and effectively.