David Cameron’s speech to Tory conference yesterday was supposed to be policy-free so that the media would pick up his list of achievements because it had no other choice. The problem with this, though, was that the papers found a policy in the speech anyway, and if they did splash on the speech, they chose this policy, not the ‘finish the job’ line or any other (although the Mail used the ‘Land of Hope is Tory’ line). It was on housing benefits for the under-25s, but it wasn’t exactly ready to be a set-piece conference announcement, more a fleeting reference to gain more applause in the hall.
Because the policy wasn’t quite ready, a rushed briefing came out when it was demanded. You can read the note in full at the bottom of this post. The reason I’ve included it is that it shows how little detail there is on it. But it isn’t, as many thought yesterday, a full ban on benefits for the under-25s. I explained the differences in this post, and James had details of the discussions around this policy in his Mail on Sunday column months ago. To underline that this is not the full ban on benefits but a sanctions policy, Nick Clegg today told LBC that he could support it too, while he opposes an outright ban. He said:
‘I’m all for making sure there’s better conditionality so that the incentive to just rely on benefits is minimised; I’m not in favour of just blanket removal of people just because they happen to be a certain age.’
But because there wasn’t much detail to bandy about, the story has been written up in a multitude of ways. And this means that it’s quite easy for people like Frances O’Grady to claim that the policy is already unravelling, as she has here. But the truth is that the policy hadn’t even been ravelled yet: it hasn’t got to the stage where it could unravel. So perhaps the lesson from this week’s Conservative conference is that if you want to give a policy-free speech, don’t give one containing references to things you haven’t quite worked out yet.
Briefing note issued yesterday on under-25s benefits plan:
Today’s announcement builds on the PM’s speech at last year’s conference when he raised the prospect of stopping housing benefit for under 25s. In his 2012 conference speech, David Cameron said: ‘we’re going to look at ending automatic access to housing benefit for people under 25 too’.
An existing review being led by Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood is looking at training and education for under-25s and will feed into this policy. The Heywood review is also looking at reforms to support young people while they are in training.
Under existing rules, young jobless people lose their benefits if they train for more than 16 hours a week. As a result, the system pays them if they are not in training – but stops supporting them when they do and the Heywood review is looking at ways to support young people after they’ve commenced training programmes.
Those who refuse to take part in the scheme will lose automatic entitlement to some benefits including job seekers’ allowance and housing benefit. This policy is a bringing together of Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Gove’s ground-breaking welfare and education policies with making work pay and getting the education and skills necessary to prosper in life. A fully fleshed out version will be in the Conservative party manifesto – and further details will be set out in due course.