‘means tests act like a cancer…within the welfare state’

The debate must go beyond the simple rhetoric of creating an incentive to work. This is the proud claim of the government’s universal credit: that it will ensure no one moving into work will be worse off. Of course this is a good objective. But any incentive offered by the new universal credit is unlikely to make much difference to that growing group of claimants who view their benefit as a pension for life. Only a job paying many times their benefit income is likely to tempt them, but their skill base makes such an offer almost unimaginable.

Welfare now, sadly, peddles values which the bedrock of our working-class and middle-class supporters see as an attack on the ethical values they hold. And it is here that the government’s bizarre thrust for a welfare El Dorado comes smack up against the electorate’s support. The universal credit is sold on the idea of simplifying a complicated welfare system. Who could be against that?

But the universal credit is a means-tested benefit and means tests act like a cancer, and a rampantly growing cancer, within the welfare state. Means tests teach the attraction of dependency, they penalise work and reward either inaction or downright dishonesty. They are one means by which the welfare bill is pushed up.

Means tests are an attack on the ethical position Labour has always held, specifically about the welfare state, but, much more generally about how we should conduct our private and public lives.

We have an open goal now on welfare reform but we seem reluctant even to acknowledge the ball, let alone get our best kickers onto it. This hesitancy was on display during the six days of the Queen’s speech.

The above is from Frank Field here.

  1. Which influenced behaviour, the culture or the welfare state?
  2. Some bad news about the welfare reform and some good
  3. The importance of Clegg and other notes on the welfare white paper
  4. How the welfare state taxes the poor
  5. “What Beveridge denounced as the ‘giant evil’ of idleness is now being incubated on a mass scale by the very welfare state designed to eradicate it.”
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