From education to employment

FE News Look at Welfare Reform

The Government have started the New Year with a flurry of activity that is set to shake up the existing structure of education, training and the welfare state.

The announcement from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has seen the Government attempt to tackle the perception that the present strutcture surrounding benefit payments and incapacity benefit in particular simply moves the goal posts when it comes to determining the numbers of those out of work, and thus makes more palatable reading.

The reforms announced mark a radical departure from previous initiatives and a bold step forward in encouraging people back to work. Unlike the Education White Paper, where the focus on City Academies and allowing schools greater independence has brought the Government into conflict with its own backbench MP’s and into an unlikely reliance on Conservative support come the vote, this welfare reform has received broad support.

Some Reforms

Amongst the changes that have been proposed are reforming incapacity benefits; a £360 million roll out of Pathways to Work across the country by 2008; extending support to lone parents and older workers; reforming housing benefit; transforming support for people living in our cities; and delivering support to meet the needs of everyone. It is hoped that these, together with other unified policy initiatives, will allow the nation to meet the Government’s target of achieving an 80% employment rate for people of working age.

There has been much progress made since the Labour Party swept to victory in the 1997 general election, with 2.3 million more people in work now than then. The achievemtn of this goal will be a strong step in meeting the challenge of an aging population and put us at the forefront when compared with other major countries. This level (80% employment) would likely result in reducing the number of people on incapacity benefits by 1 million; helping 1 million older workers into employment; and helping over 300,000 lone parents into work.

John Hutton on the Way Forward

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, John Hutton MP, said at the launch of the Green Paper: “We have made great progress in tackling unemployment ““ touching areas that previous reforms couldn”t reach. We now have to apply these reforms across the board. This Green Paper will set a new direction enabling and empowering people to fulfil their potential and ambitions not consigning them to a lifetime on benefit.

“Our plans will redefine the role of the welfare state,” he continued. “The fundamental emphasis will be on what people can do not what they cannot. Essentially we want to return to fundamental principles where the welfare state is able to respond to peoples abilities and help them into the work place – not one that condemns them to a life on benefits.

“Since 1997, the Government has embarked on a programme of reform that has resulted in more than 2.3 million people getting into work since 1997 and lifting over 2 million children and 1.9 million pensioners out of poverty,” he concluded. “Today represents the next important step along the creation of a new welfare settlement that meets the needs of 21st century Britain.”

Jethro Marsh

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