By Jill Mountford
David Freud’s a banker, a big banker and, it goes without saying, he’s very wealthy. So the Government (the Department of Work and Pensions) chose him to write an “independent” report on welfare reform, him being independent and all — entitled “Reducing Dependency, Increasing Opportunity”.
Gordon Brown, on the other hand, is not “independent”. He’s set to be the next Labour Prime Minister and he likes what David Freud, the rich banker, has to say. For Brown, Freud’s report is the “first stage of a new decade of welfare reform” that he will “champion.”
My friend, Janine, is a lone parent, who’s been struggling on benefits for 11 years. Though she’s not got letters after her name, she says she’s penned a report, coincidentally entitled “Reducing Dependency, Increasing Opportunity”. Her report is all about the rich breaking their dependency on massive tax benefits from the Government, increasing opportunity for themselves by them paying their way, by them making a fair contribution to the wealth of our society.
David Freud, the rich “independent” banker, says a dozen large private sector “prime contractors” should take over the responsibility for getting the long-term unemployed off benefits and into work.
My friend Janine, the lone parent on benefits says: “Surely that will mean hundreds of JobCentre Plus staff will lose their jobs and many will have to go on welfare benefits?” Also, she says, “isn’t David Freud proposing the creation of a ‘multi-billion pound’ welfare industry?”
Janine says she “…remember[s] a slogan that went something like ‘People before Profit’.’’ She’s wondering if this multi-billion pound welfare industry will have any kind of private profit element?
Freud says lone parents should be required to look for work once their youngest child is 12 (some in Government say 12 is too old, the age should be lower). Janine says this is “just another blatant attack on lone parents because the minimum wage is so very low and the jobs that many lone parents will be pushed into will be very poorly paid.”
And, she says, what about childcare? Not just after school and before school, which is difficult enough to organise and almost impossible to pay for, what about all the holidays? There are 13 weeks holiday a year! She says “we can’t all get jobs as teaching assistants and dinner ladies to get the hours and holidays to suit our childcare needs”.
Freud says JobCentre Plus should focus increasingly on those who have been unemployed for less than a year. Janine says this is a “smack in the face” for all those “workers in Job Centres who have been struggling to support unemployed workers for years”. She says what’s the sense in all that experience going to waste?
Janine says “Freud’s talking through his arse because the problem of long-term unemployment doesn’t lie with the JobCentre Plus staff, the problem is lack of real jobs paying a wage people can live on.” She says “you can’t support a family financially, emotionally or physically while working for McDonalds”, but she says “you can if you’re a banker, because they get paid disgustingly high salaries for gambling and speculating”. (She says lone parents would be lambasted and vilified for doing the same, and smiles a wry smile at the thought that this Labour Government will be remembered for their gamble on war in Iraq and their liberalisation of the gambling laws with the introduction of the new ‘super casinos’).
Freud says there should be greater rewards for organisations that are successful in helping “customers” find and stay in work, with higher payments based on sustaining customers in employment for as long as three years.
Janine says the idea of paying out “bonuses” to those organisations that get “customers” into work stinks.
While she’s sure the bonuses won’t be anything like the individual bonuses paid out in the City, she says this is no way to run a welfare system.. And “who are these companies/organisations that will take on getting the long term unemployed into work?” As she points out, “all these organisations will do is concentrate on getting the most employable of the long term unemployed into work and take the cash bonus.” She sighs and says, “Life can make you cynical.”
Freud, the rich man, says there needs to be a rebalancing of rights and responsibilities in the welfare system. He says this should be done by matching increased support with greater obligations on claimants to look for work.
Janine says, “funnily enough I’ve been thinking along similar lines.” She says “it’s long, long overdue that Freud and his class start to take their responsibilities as seriously as they literally ‘take’ their ‘rights’.” She says she “…reckon[s] the rich have a welfare system that’s never ever under attack, quite the reverse. Each government that comes along seems to throw new, bigger and better benefits at it.” She says, she can’t remember (mainly because she’s got so much to think about and juggle and worry about), but she’s read somewhere that the rich save millions of pounds in taxation — pound for pound, she says the rich pay hardly anything by comparison to average to low paid worker.
Freud says the welfare system should move towards a single system of working-age benefits. Janine says this is “…a thoroughly offensive idea for a civilised society to even consider.” She says, “Yes to a non-means tested welfare system. No to a single system of benefits!” She says “what about the sick, the disabled, those with caring responsibilities who can’t work — what about each according to their needs?”
Janine says she doesn’t want to make this “personal to Freud”. For all she “knows he might be a really nice man.” “But,” she asks, “why have Labour have asked a posh, well-meaning robber to make up the law on robbing the poor?”