It’s worth considering the headline claims made by Iain Duncan Smith yesterday in a major speech yesterday:
Obviously, these facts need to be put in context: employment often rises fastest where it has been comparatively low, and this was the case in the North-East – the longstanding economic difficulties of which were exacerbated by the recession.
It’s also worth noting that all this has taken place without the full introduction of the Universal Credit (of which Duncan-Smith made a strong defence yesterday).
But it would be perverse to claim that the low proportion of workless households, the low inactivity rate, and the falls in the number of NEETs have nothing at all to do with the reforms which the Work and Pensions Secretary has been putting in place.
What seems gradually to be happening is a culture change in attitudes to work and welfare – particularly among younger voters, as Mark Wallace has pointed out.
The benefits cap and sanctions arguably follow public opinion as much as lead it. Duncan Smith cited both yesterday – along with the Work Programme, the Innovation Fund, Ministers’ work on apprenticeships and housing benefit reforms. (Homelessness, he argued, is down.) Labour will find it very hard to tear up this settlement: indeed, it is responding to the loss of part of its working class electoral base by offering some further reductions in benefits.
“Everything we have done – every programme we have introduced – has been targeted at supporting the hardest to help into work,” Duncan Smith said yesterday. He has become one of the great reforming Ministers of this Government not by introducing one big plan – such as the delayed Universal Credit – but by making lots of smaller reforms and focusing, as he was always likely to do given his work at the Centre for Social Justice, on those previously parked on benefits.