Lessons from America
Does anyone remember Iain Duncan Smith's "compassionate conservatism"? Or "welfare expert" Frank Field and his policies to "think the unthinkable"? Or David Cameron's suggestions that we should reform our welfare system to make it more like America's?
Recent statistics from America show quite clearly how its welfare system is failing those who need its help.
More than 3 million people lost their jobs in the past five months, and the unemployment rate is up to 15.6% (or nearly 1 in 6 adults). And yet in 2008, only 36% of unemployed Americans received unemployment benefits. That means 64% who were either using up their savings, living on handouts from charities, trying to cope without the essentials or turning to crime for survival (the growth sector of the American welfare state is in locking people up in prison). Some of the biggest new housing developments are 'tent cities', where people who can't afford anywhere permanent to live put up temporary dwellings along railway tracks and underneath freeway overpasses. Other families rely on the generosity of friends or family, moving in for a few days or weeks with others into grossly overcrowded housing.
It is one of the most basic functions of a welfare system that if someone loses a job, they get help to pay the bills and support to find another job. In the 1990s, the welfare support offered by states in America were re-designed by 'experts' who thought that the supply of jobs would always grow and that benefits caused people to become "dependent" and "idle". As a result, the help and support that people need is no longer there for millions of Americans.
I can't honestly see anything "compassionate" about the people who argued loudly that Britain should have introduced this wretched and failed system. And when its advocates claim to be "experts" in welfare policy, we should remember that they are "welfare experts" in the same way that Fred Goodwin is an "expert" in how to run a bank.