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David Cameron: A real plan for welfare reform

At the launch of the Conservatives' Green Paper on welfare reform, entitled 'Work for Welfare - A real plan for welfare reform', David Cameron said:

"Today we're here to talk about a big challenge. I know the Prime Minister is constantly talking about big challenges, but this is a challenge that he has completely and comprehensively failed to meet.

"It's the Challenge to get people off benefit and into work. It's the challenge of helping people get out of poverty and making the most of their lives. It's the challenge of equipping the British workforce for the future and making sure we can compete with India and China. And it's the challenge of cutting the ills of social failure.

"It's a challenge that we are determined to meet - as we cannot go on as we are.

"Today, there are almost five million people on benefits and out of work. The number of people claiming incapacity benefit has gone up, youth unemployment has gone up. There are half a million people under the age of 35 on incapacity benefit. We've got the highest percentage of children in workless households in the whole of Europe.

"Politicians often make welfare reform very complicated, but actually, it's not. The most important thing is that those who can work should work and those who can't work should be properly supported by a compassionate society that believes in social justice.

"Having a job and working is good for you. Not just because you can pay the bills and put food on the table, but it is a way to get on and make something of your life.

"I've got some very simple propositions. People who can work, should work. But people who are out of work and who cannot work, should be properly supported by a society that believes in social justice. But going with that - if you are out of work - there are obligations that you should seek work, get training, and get a job. That is the simplest principle that we bring to this subject.

"First of all, we will give everyone a proper assessment, whether they are on incapacity benefit or on jobseeker's allowance. We will give everyone the help they need, the training they need to get back to work. And we will use the most modern methods to make sure this happens. And the absolute keystone is insuring that the agencies responsible for returning people to work are paid on results. If they don't get people into work, they don't get paid. And they don't get paid instantly. As in Australia, the agent who helpS someone into work should then be paid when they have been in work for a year. And we shouldn't shy away from using the private sector and the voluntary sector to get people from benefits into work. It has worked in other countries, and it can work here.

"I think there are four reasons why the policies of the Government simply have not been delivered. You've heard politicians of all parties stand up like this and promise tough welfare reform. And it hasn't happened. Why should we be different? Let me explain why reform hasn't happened before and why it will happen with the Conservatives.

"The first reason reform hasn't happened before is that one vital step - reform of sickness benefits - could mean an increase in the unemployment figures and that's bad PR for any Government. This is a classic politician's dilemma and it's one we just have to overcome. It's plain wrong to be deterred from necessary reform because the headline unemployment figure may go up. Labour are in this weird state of denial when the figures say one thing and plain common sense says another. It's plain dishonest of the Government to hide unemployment in the sickness register. The first step to actually cutting unemployment - real unemployment - is to call it by its name.

"I think the second reason politicians have been wary of taking the difficult and necessary decisions is because they are worried about having an argument with the disability lobby. But I think it is vital that a compassionate society looks after people who are disabled, those people who cannot work. That is part of a civilised society. But we do no favours to disabled people by lumping them all together on incapacity benefit with those who are able to work or those who want to work but lack the training. So let's not be frightened of having that argument and saying that 2.6m people on incapacity benefit is not right. Half a million people under the age of 35 is not right.

"Now the third reason, I think, politicians have shied away from this is the worry that they will be accused of lacking compassion. Now this is a wrong argument and one we have had before. There is nothing compassionate about leaving people in good shape on benefits year after year. It is not social justice to have millions of our fellow countrymen sitting at home when they could be working. So I don't think there is an ounce of compassion in the way the current system works.

"I think there is perhaps a fourth issue why politicians are wary of tackling this issue. We have been shy and nervous of using successful systems from other parts of the world, and believe it is important that we say taking people off welfare and into work is not just a state responsibility but a social responsibility, and it's a responsibility of voluntary sector organisations and private sector companies.

"The prime minister has taken up our plans on inheritance tax, he's taken up our plans on the constitution and the NHS, to name but a few. I am now saying to him - take on these ideas and we can work together to make Britain a stronger and fairer country. Let's work together to create a country where people have far greater opportunities to work, and fewer families are living in poverty. Let's give people hope and unity for a stronger future for our country."

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