Fraser Nelson of the Spectator Coffee House has a great post today with the latest on the coalition's benefit reforms – go read it, please. As a rule, FN is somewhere to the right of General Pinochet, but on this issue I find myself agreeing with him to an almost worrying extent. Welfare dependency is a true modern evil.
Living in Cardiff, we don't get exposed to the real, grinding misery of long-term unemployment, but take a train up to the valleys sometime. The most recent Welsh Assembly data available defines almost one in five Welsh households as “workless”. For the most deprived local authorities, such as Merthyr Tydfil (see photo) and Blaenau Gwent, this figure climbs to 24%. Something is deeply wrong here. You can feel it just walking down the street in certain towns; some vital spark seems to have been knocked out of the community.
The coalition's radical proposals will take the better part of the next decade to see through. As with all progress, there will be endless failures, setbacks and betrayals, and after all that, it's possible these reforms will turn out not to have been the best solution. Still, they deserve credit (Universal Credit, haha) for taking this problem seriously. This was yet another area in which Labour failed to effect positive change on what is supposedly their home turf: the eradication of poverty. Perhaps recognising this, senior Labour sources* have hinted that Ed Miliband may lend the government his support on this issue. I hope he does. With bipartisan backing, change would be nigh unstoppable. Things can hardly get worse, at any rate.
Whether Labour get behind it or not, I will be fully supporting Iain Duncan Smith in this noble experiment, and so should you. That is not a sentence I ever expected to type.
*One of those curious journalistic phrases that could mean anything from the party leader himself to an eavesdropping pizza delivery boy.