Jenny Willott: Labour’s back-to-work policies won’t work

The Lib Dems agree with the Labour Government that there should be more private and voluntary sector involvement in back-to-work support, but the Government’s proposed model – the ‘right to bid’ – will not put the individual at the centre of employment services.

The Government will negotiate central contracts with providers, setting one-size-fits-all time limits for jobseekers to take up a job or face benefit cuts. Voluntary sector organisations, who are often very effective at getting disadvantaged groups back into work, will not be able to afford to bid speculatively for the contracts, which is such a waste.

Not only could this stifle innovation, but crude payment by results could cherry-pick those easiest to help, leaving behind those who need the most support. What’s more, in an economic downturn, it is quite possible that companies who win contracts find them unprofitable or go bust, leaving us with rising unemployment and little state provision to fall back on.

After a year out of work, a jobseeker will have to do work experience. But if they are illiterate, unqualified or massively lacking self-confidence, why wait a year? The Government is not best placed to judge an individual’s needs. We should give JobCentre Plus staff the discretion to decide who needs intensive support at a much earlier stage.

The Government finally agrees with us that the benefits system is too complicated. But their timid and vague simplification proposals suggest this could be shelved once again. Introducing a Single Working Age Benefit would drastically simplify the system, improve the take-up of benefits, reduce fraud and error and get rid of disincentives to work.

And this leads to the final glaring flaw in the proposals – the assumption that work is the best route out of poverty. For the majority, it is. But our complex benefits and tax credits system can leave people worse off when they do get a job. Last year, for the first time, there were more children in poverty with a working parent than with no parent in work. Delaying benefits simplification and excluding tax credits from reforms shows the Government has no answer to this problem.

* Jenny Willott MP is the Lib Dems’ Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and Party policy and internal matters.


  • Good article, the last paragraph was the best. But what is a single working age benefit?

  • Grammar Police 11th Aug '08 - 9:26pm

    Of course, one way to ensure that people who work are better off *in work* than on benefits, is to stop this nonsense of tax credits – where you pay the tax and get it back in benefits – and to reduce taxation on low and middle earners and allow people to keep more of the money they earn . . .

  • Andrew Duffield 11th Aug '08 - 9:53pm

    Promising stuff! Perhaps the Liberal merit of a universal, non-means tested Citizen’s Income hasn’t been forgotten?

    C’mon Jenny – you could eradicate that big-state administrative apparatus (saving a fortune in the process), eliminate all those poverty traps that discourage work and finally end the arbitrary, inefficient and insulting “age of retirement”.

    We already support a Citizen’s Pension. It just needs extending to the rest of the population in lieu of the morass of benefits, tax allowances and bureaucracy you so rightly condemn.

    Keep at it!

  • “What you often find is people being forced into unsuitable work experience which can have a real detrimental effect on confidence and well being.”

    As a member of the long term unemployed I couldn’t disagree more.
    I would positively welcome any work experience and I believe being unemployed and largely inactive has far greater effects on confidence, self-esteem and well being .

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