Thursday, November 08, 2007

Rights And Responsibilities

It was all meant to be so very different

New Labour used to bang on at length about rights being counterbalanced by responsibilities, especially in the tricky area of welfare and work. Unfortunately, once elected, despite much faffing and huge additional complexity, there was an abject failure to grip the fundamental problem.

As we blogged here, there are currently 5.4m people of working age who are not working but drawing benefits instead. And overall, we're spending in excess of £100bn pa on "social protection" (excluding that spent on pensioners). That's about £4,000 pa per UK household.

Such spending breeds welfare dependency, and there's now overwhelming evidence of the harm that does- not only to the immediate recipients, but also to their children, and their children's children.

I've just read the Adam Smith Institute's paper Working Welfare, which joins the call for Britain to learn from the successful US experience, and to implement a version of Clinton's 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act.

That would mean a radical decentralisation of welfare provision, the privatisation of Jobcentres, and critically, much more conditionality in the payment of welfare support. Except for the most seriously disabled, all recipients of working age would be required to work. Ideally the work would be a normal job, but failing all else, it would be on a community project. The key would be no work, no money.

The paper makes some interesting points, and two things really caught my eye. First, on the incredible complexity of our welfare system, there are now "at least 51 separate benefits, compared to 27 in 1979 and only seven in 1948". The perverse incentives spinning out of such complexity can hardly be imagined. And poor Sir William, who tried so hard to simplify things, must be spinning in his proverbial.

Second, the paper reproduces the following startling chart from Reform. It highlights the fact that less than 19% of current working age welfare benefits are in any way conditional on getting work:

So that's 100% rights but only 19% responsibilities.

No wonder we've got 5 million non-working dependents.

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