VitalSpark: Coalition Blog

Posted: 29 June 2010, in Blog

John Bird MBE and Social Enterprise Ambassador has been ranting in The Times about the Welfare State and suggesting that people on benefits should do some work in order to receive their money. This has been part of his “stichk” for some time but he does have a point about the alienating and detrimental effects of long term engagement with the welfare system. Try and catch him comparing the cost of sending someone to Eton and the cost of putting someone in care from the age of 5-16. Classic stuff.

Dependency, poverty and the nature of post industrial capitalism itself have of course helped create our underclass and so far the State and its partners have been unable to solve this problem. Now our new Westminster Coalition has the responsibility to do something about it. Let’s hope it is something other than a neo -Thatcherite cuts and vilify policy.

My view of this conundrum is that most of us recognise that the benefits system (and trap) is part of the problem. But, because of our politics, we are loath to distinguish between cheats, chancers and neer do wells and the genuinely needy. The rhetoric of the reform of the welfare system debate has long been the domain of the right wing nastier elements of the media so we have avoided rigour in our thinking about what should be done.

What we have done instead, is support, acquiesce in and accommodate an expansion of the universal welfare system to ameliorate poverty and lighten our consciences. The trouble is the financial costs and the unintended consequences. The former are unsustainable and the latter is a danger to social cohesion as well as an incredible waste of human capital.

My perception is that change can be effected radically (big bang) but the social, financial and unintended costs are massive and unknown despite what politicians and think tanks say. Alternatively, slow change (incremental) is often tedious, bureaucratic and opposed by defenders of the status quo. The process becomes the debate – not the intended outcomes.

So, what to do? Check out the latest email from SSEC HQ about Serco, the London based main contractor for the DWP’s Work Programme for the long term unemployed. They are seeking Scottish Partners to establish sub contractor networks. Have faith in social entrepreneurs coming up with innovative solutions –after all most of our social missions are based on addressing State and Market failures so it is incumbent on us to get stuck in. Good luck with making profit out of any engagement you manage to secure.