The Conservatives set out a number of welfare reforms at their conference last week, declaring they wanted an end to the “something for nothing” culture. Proposals for hardline benefit sanctions and payment-by-results for charities proved controversial while others relating to adult social care lacked substance, according to critics.
Under a Tory government, people who refuse three reasonable jobs offers would lose their entitlement to benefits for three years, shadow work and pensions secretary Chris Grayling said.
He told conference delegates: “Everyone who could work will be expected to take up the support on offer. They will be expected to get out of the house and to do something every day. If they won’t, they will automatically lose their benefits until they do.
“When people get a reasonable job offer they will be expected to take it. It is much better to be in a job, and looking to move on to something else, than sitting at home hoping the right thing will come along.”
He added that those who claimed job seekers allowance for more than two years would be expected to complete a year-long community programme to get them back into the work habit.
Grayling said: “A modern welfare state is an essential part of a modern society. But it should be an engine of social mobility and not a root cause of immobility in society. It should be designed to help people up the ladder and not live at the bottom of it.”
Poverty campaigners have attacked the proposed policy as a “gimmick,” warning it will punish poor families. Chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group Kate Green said: “People who do not take jobs face very serious barriers. They may be people with learning difficulties, mental health problems or childcare needs. Maybe it is work that does not pay enough. Also the numbers just do not add up. There are only 600,000 jobs and five million people without work.”
“We are talking about vulnerable groups. In the US where this was introduced what we have seen is child poverty rising and 15 per cent of the people who were on support have disappearing into the black economy. It is a really dangerous route.”
Grayling went on to say the Tories would introduce back to work centres around the country, providing specialist support for job seekers and people on incapacity benefit, contracting private and voluntary sector organisations to do the work.
He added they would be paid “only when successful”.
Payment by results
Nick Herbert, shadow justice minister said that the Conservatives planned to hire charities to work with young offenders to stop reoffending, and would pay them according to their success.
Jay Kennedy, policy officer at charity the Directory of Social Change, said: “Payment by results sounds like another version of the same target-driven culture that already exists but one that could be even more difficult for the voluntary sector to manage. The issue of youth offending offers a particularly good example to illustrate the potential problems. But who determines what a ‘good’ result is? How can you quantify the umpteen factors that influence a particular person’s life that could lead to antisocial behaviour or offending which are outside of the charity’s control?”
He added: “It sounds like the Conservatives are counting on the voluntary sector to act as some kind of surrogate parents for young offenders. That’s totally unrealistic, unworkable and unfair. And ironically it seems to fly in the face of their ideas about a ‘broken society’ and the need to develop more holistic solutions to social problems by strengthening family and community structures.”
Ralph Michell, policy advocate at the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, said the move to payment-by-results was welcome. “We are the sector that is best at getting those results. So the principle is right – but the devil is in the detail.”
But he warned: “When there is no level playing field for the third sector organisations, payments by results won’t go according to plan. With poor access to loan finance, third sector organisations can struggle to deal with the cash-flow issues that payment by results entails. The Conservative plans will require them to level the playing field and enable third sector organisations to participate fully in payments by results commissioning.”
Adult social care
Elsewhere adult social care, in particular older people’s issues, was given significant priority at the conference but many criticised the lack of clear policies should they come to power.
Campaigners called on the Conservatives to focus more on social care, described by charity Age Concern during a fringe session on personalization as the most significant issue in the coming 20 years.
Patrick South, head of public affairs at Age Concern, said “The focus on older people’s issues, especially reforming social care, at the Conservative Party Conference was really positive. What is needed now is a commitment to action. We need a new long term settlement for the care and support system – this means radical reform and a significant increase in public funding. We hope the Conservatives will engage in a serious discussion about this in the months ahead.”
Shadow health minister Stephen O’Brien said funding for Alzheimer’s research would be given a greater priority within the NHS and Medical Research Council funding.
Andrew Lansley, shadow health secretary, said the Conservatives would have personal budgets for people with long-term conditions that would be made up of two parts: a mean-tested social care part and a free healthcare element. He also pledged to end mixed sex wards for mental health patients, saying within five years everybody who went into hospital for an operation would be able to ask for a single room.