Striving doesn't pay in today's Britain

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The Independent Online

As the Autumn Statement looms, the Government's failure to get Britain back to work will take centre stage, but who will pay the price? The country's welfare bill is an incredible £24bn higher than forecast, and rising, it seems, as unemployment remains higher than at the last election.

This week, we'll learn that Iain Duncan Smith hasn't made the challenge any easier. The DWP's Work Programme has descended into gridlock as Jobcentre Plus staff lose all confidence in it. Referrals to the programme have halved over the past year , even though one-third of people out of work in Britain have been out of work for over a year, and the numbers have gone up by nearly 200,000 in the last year. The Work Programme is not working.

There's been plenty of pitch-rolling recently about who might have their benefits docked next. Tax credits, one of the greatest inventions of the last Labour government, are now taking the weight of the Government's cuts to social security. In fact, the cuts to tax credits now total over £14bn, around a third of the total welfare cuts.

Two years ago David Cameron said the Government would make sure that "everyone is better off working rather than on benefits". But if you were a working couple with kids doing a part-time job – say 16 hours a week – you will now be £728 a year better off on benefits than in a job.

This record of calamity is now creating a Britain which is simply less fair. For over the last two years, British workers have been producing more, and earning less. Productivity has carried on rising each year. But real earnings are falling fast. If this carries on, we're going to become a country where quite frankly, social mobility is slammed into reverse. Where the prizes are carried off by a lucky few and everyone else stays stuck.

Unless Mr Osborne and Mr Duncan Smith start getting their act together with a serious plan for jobs, then I'm afraid the outlook for Britain's strivers looks grim.