Headlines: October 22nd, 1997

The debate on changing the welfare system to overcome its defects and bring it into line with the 21st century has widened with the publication of Transforming Welfare. Frank Field, Minister for Welfare Reform, sets out his vision of the future in the book published by the Single Market Foundation.He highlights the defects of the current system, including means testing which deters honesty, impersonal administration of benefits which limits accountability and compassion measured by the size of the social security budget. He sees the welfare state of the future working with the grain of human nature and supporting people in their desire to improve themselves.

Proposals for change include: paying people benefit to get back to work rather than encouraging them to stay at home; a separate health insurance tax; a new stakeholder pension scheme to rival the State Earnings Related Pension Scheme, allowing the public to build up their own pension; and bringing back mutual societies to compete with the market.

The ideas set out in Reforming Welfare look more credible when viewed against the background of Government policy. The welfare to work programme, costing £3.5b will end means testing for the under 25’s. Income support for this group will be scraped and they will be offered a wide range of training and job opportunities. The programme to interview lone parents and the disabled to find out if they could be helped to find work will be another measure that strikes at the dependency culture.

Frank Field’s vision is now receiving intense scrutiny, particularly in the Treasury.