i Editor's Letter: Work should pay. It’s disgusting that someone should be worse off by taking employment.


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“Where is the fairness, we ask, for the shift worker, leaving home in the dark hours of the early morning, who looks up at the closed blinds of their next door neighbour sleeping off a life on benefits? We speak for that worker.” One of George Osborne’s more memorable pitches to the British public.

We lead today’s i on a proposed new shake-up of unemployment benefits, which would see people having to ‘sign  on’ every week. Trials showed that people found a job faster than if they only needed to visit a Jobcentre  fortnightly – although there are also objections.

Work should pay. It’s disgusting that someone should be worse off by taking employment. This Coalition, though, has been torn between two visions of welfare reform, one of them grand. First, the crusaders led by Iain Duncan  Smith, who feel a moral mission to drive people out of unemployment –  “a quasi-religious programme of mass redemption”, as Matthew d’Ancona put  it in his book In It Together. This can be expensive: supporting and retraining the long-term unemployed.

Then there are the pragmatists like George Osborne, who see an economic virtue in cutting the cost of benefits at a time of austerity, and political gain in occasionally tapping working-class anger at Benefits Street.

The problem with Mr Duncan Smith’s  grand vision – exemplified in the Universal Credit – is that big ideas need to  work. Shadow Work Secretary Rachel Reeves recently pointed out that at the current pace, it will take 1,571 years to complete the Universal Credit reform. (Will Labour drop UC if it wins power?)

The jobs picture is brighter now. But  since 2010 the DWP has allowed public battles between ministers and civil servants, wasted appalling sums on IT  disasters, overseen huge delays in work  assessments, penalised thousands unable to work, missed targets and introduced a bedroom tax that compels  people to move to homes that don’t exist. Apart from that it has been an unmitigated success and Mr Duncan Smith can be proud of his record.


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