progress is not the elimination of struggle, but rather a change in its terms’ - Aneurin Bevan

well fair?

I've just watched Andrew Neil interveiw Work & Pensions minister Iain Duncan Smith on Straight Talk. And I am not satisfied. The talk was, well, not straight enough to satisfy my curiousity.

The programme is on the BBC, a public service broadcaster, so I expected Neil to challenge the minister thoroughly. Sadly, this did not take place. Neil failed in his job of public service by neglecting to ask the questions which, through market failure, are not asked by private broadcasters. I intend to correct this public service failure by asking the questions here...

The Tory/Liberal coalition is committed to reducing DWP spending by 20% in the financial year 2011-12. The Chancellor has suggested that spending cuts in other departments could be avoided if the DWP makes greater savings. This is just the start, of course, there will be future cuts throughout the course of the parliament.

On pensions, the ConDem's have already acted to reduce the terms and conditions of both public and private sector pensions - public sector employees will pay more and get less, private sector pensioners will in future get less. Not very fair, but for a coalition of millionaires, not very surprising.

Unasked questions: What about the great number of private sector employees that are not paying in to pension schemes? Could be permitted and encouraged to pay into local government pension funds, rather than merely depend on the state pension in retirement?

Now for the work aspect of the DWP. The main problem here is that Duncan Smith's welfare reform plans appear one-sided. For example, increased conditionality for work-related benefits - turn down a job offer, get a benefit cut - is based on an assumption about people who are out of work for long periods of time. Duncan Smith also wants to make the transition from unemployment or disability benefits to employment easier for the individual - he calls this "making work pay".

Both these examples demonstrate an approach which treats both the supply of jobs and the rate of pay as external to the functioning of the welfare system and separate from the economic policy of the coalition.

We already know that long periods of unemployment have a correlative link to ill-health - the areas with the highest levels of health-related benefit claimants are also the areas with the highest levels of unemployment.

Unanswered question: does the Work & Pensions minister have any view on the impact of cuts to regional economic development?

Given that unemployment has risen during the recession and fewer job posts are advertised than there are people dependent upon benefits - is it not the case that there is "structural unemployment"? In which case, the problem is not the willingness to work, but the demand for work by employers.

Unasked questions: Is the intention to reduce benefit payments over time, regardless of the attitude of the claimant?

Now, Duncan Smith would no doubt counter with some OBR statistics about a sudden demand for workers by private employers. But this is not credible: for one thing, the impact of spending cuts will not revive consumer demand; also the abolition of capital allowances which help export industries and the likelihood of lower demand for UK goods and services in the largest export market, the Eurozone, will conspire against rebalancing of the economy and thus, private sector job creation.

The DWP can expect more demand from those the coalition makes unemployed in the public sector and those made unemployed as a consequence of cuts impacting on the private sector.

More people in need of help and less help available - what gives?

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