Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Scotland is the battleground for Purnell's welfare reforms

An interesting story from Scotland reports that New Labour's Work & Pensions Secretary, James Purnell, is accusing the SNP of deliberately blocking his welfare reforms with regards to drug users. Under Purnell's plans, drug addicts will lose their benefits unless they seek help. His charge then, is that the SNP are blocking ('sabotaging') the reforms by preventing Glasgow University from releasing the necessary data about the situation in Scotland.

I don't need to use this blog to describe how disastrous this policy could be. Taking benefits away from people dependent on drugs will surely make them more likely to commit crime.

Purnell's desire to get tough on all kinds of welfare claimants is well-documented. Long-term unemployed, incapacitiy benefit claimants and single mothers are all in his sights as he looks to force more people to work for their dole. The problem that he can't address is that the jobs simply aren't available for these people. The areas with the highest levels of claimants of various benefits are generally also the areas with the lowest amount of vacancies available through Job Centre Plus. To turn this around the Government needs to address the cause, not the effect. Purnell has got it wrong, and although i'm mainly criticising the mid to long-term implications of his reforms, he has already caused some problems in the present. He presided over significant DWP staff cuts, and now the DWP is on a costly recruitment drive because they have realised that they need far more staff to deal with the effects of the economic downturn.

The UK Government has full control over the benefits system, but the Scottish Government has its own policies with regards to drugs and the health service. It's a confusing picture that assumes that the SNP are ideologically opposed to the UK Government's welfare reforms. The SNP coming out against them on a national level would certainly be a welcome development. The UK Government could listen to the numerous drugs charities (people that deal with drug users on a day to day basis) and wouldn't need the Scottish Government's statistics.

I'm led to conclude that James Purnell is attacking the SNP deliberately to make it look like they are stopping him 'getting tough' with drug addicts. This is quite a vindictive and right-wing position. It shows the nature of the beast. And it's a gamble that might not pay off.

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