Monday, 28 November 2011

Should the Conservatives apologise for 'welfare dependency'?

In the year and a half that the Coalition has been in power, perhaps the most cited quip from ministers has been the call that Labour should apologise for increasing the size of the UK's deficit. While this is a clear political ploy to strengthen the perception amongst voters that Labour was to blame, it raises an interesting question about whether political parties should admit fault wherever it may lie.

If this is the case, then there is surely a strong argument that the Conservatives should come out and apologise for their record on welfare. It is well-known throughout policy and political circles that the Incapacity Benefit caseload increased to such a large extent because the Conservative governments of the 1980s deliberately encouraged unemployed people to make the transition to sickness benefits. We can see this just by looking at the local authorities in England and Wales with the highest Incapacity Benefit caseloads. According to Bambra (2011), these are:

  1. Merthyr Tydfil
  2. Easington
  3. Blaenau Gwent
  4. Neath Port Talbort
  5. Rhondda
  6. Liverpool
  7. Knowsley
  8. Caerphilly
  9. Manchester
  10. Hartlepool
As is clear, these are all areas that suffered massively from the economic restructuring of the 1980s; if the unemployed in these authorities weren't transferred to IB, they would have made the unemployment figures look even worse than they were at the time.

It was a disgrace that instead of supporting unemployed people and helping them find work again, the Conservatives were content to classify them as 'economically inactive' and worthy of no real back-to-work support. It is an even bigger disgrace that it is these same people that the Coalition is intent on systematically stigmatising through its campaign on 'undeserving' groups. Perhaps it is time for the Conservatives to issue an apology of their own.

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