To disguise the radical nature of reform, one need only make it boring. And here Chris
Grayling has succeeded spectacularly. Today he has announced further details on the ‘Work Programme’ and the ‘Benefit Migration’, which sound like the type of
well-intentioned but doomed reforms that ministers tried over the Labour years.
The welfare state has incubated the very ‘giant evils’ it was designed to eradicate. There are, scandalously, 2.6 million on incapacity benefit right now – a category which
ensures they don’t count in unemployment figures. Brown didn’t care much, but Grayling is taking this head-on. In tests on 1,700 IB claimants in Burnley and Aberdeen, it was found that 30 percent were fit for work, 40
percent genuinely incapacitated and the rest capable of some work.
When Iain Duncan Smith was recalled to run welfare reform, his revolutionary ‘universal credit’ was adopted on the condition that it was applied over a ten-year period. Grayling was
tasked with the more immediate reform. Today he began to implement the plan he devised three years ago with the Green Paper on welfare reform. It was a series of welfare-to-work reforms so radical
that they caught the public imagination. Labour copied them. However, James Purnell could never get Brown to approve his more radical plans, so the agenda has been on ice. Until now.
The ambition is staggering. Grayling is to re-assess 2.2 million claimants – that’s the equivalent of the population of Slovenia – and place them into three categories. Those
ready for work will be put onto the JobSeekers’ Allowance, those genuinely not capable of work will stay as they are, and those who are capable of doing a limited amount of work will be so
The government intends to start by assessing 7,000 people a week: a staggering amount. This will then rise to 10,000 in April. Meanwhile, more welfare-to-work providers will be appointed and paid up to £14,000 for getting hard-to-place people in work. The highest
payouts would go, for example, to those who train someone off incapacity benefit and into work for at least two years. Grayling has performed the AME/DEL switch (or ‘Amy Toby’ as the
BBC’s Kim Catcheside called it) which means the budget previously earmarked for the dole can be
accessed to pay for people who come off dole. It says much about the difficulty of getting welfare reform through that this basic accountancy manouevre is seen as a revolution in Whitehall.
It will be a tortuous process. The small print of the Budget included, for example, a prediction that more people will lodge appeals against the governments’ decision than was originally
thought, costing another £32 million. It will be a battle, but one that has been put off for far too long. Blair spoke about ending welfare dependency as a lifestyle choice; Grayling is about
to do it.