LAUNCH OF ONE – A NEW CONTRACT WITH THE PEOPLE
The image that many people have of the average DSS office can be pretty grim. They think of barriers in front of you, a bureaucratic system, grubby offices. Now imagine what it is like for a disabled person or a lone mother struggling through that system trying to get back to work. Too often in the past, people have felt like being treated, not as individuals with potential, but as statistics being processed. I want all that to change. If we are going to reform our welfare system, we have to make it about offering opportunities to succeed not reinforcing a sense of failure.
This week, we took the next big steps in welfare reform – radically altering the way we deal with benefits. We are creating a brand new service that is focussed on work with personal advisors for every claimant, tailoring support to individual need. Benefits, housing, work – all dealt with under one roof. Job vacancies on the Internet accessed at the touch of a button.
The agency will help build on the success of the New Deal. More than 200,000 young people have jobs as a result of the New Deal. Long-term youth unemployment has been halved and according to an independent evaluation the New Deal, has actually paid for itself because we’re getting people off benefit. They’re in work. They’re paying taxes to the revenue and therefore we’re all better off.
I believe this new agency, which we’ve called ONE because it offers a one stop service, will be able to help those who are finding it hardest to return to work, and that includes those who can’t read and write properly. One of the most worrying statistics from our research is that four out of ten people on the New Deal couldn’t even read the instructions on a medicine bottle. It’s no surprise that those same people find it hard to get a job.
I want the new agency therefore to offer a new service that builds on what we have learned from the New Deal. It gives help with reading and writing for those that need it on site or at a college. It gives them a personal advisor who is going specifically to deal with their personal problems and how we get them back to work. If we offer real opportunities, then I believe we are entitled to ask for responsibility in return. That way we all benefit. The job seeker and the taxpayer. And that is why we have made benefits dependent on attending an interview. Interviews are there to offer help, but people have got to take them up. That’s only fair. We are not forcing people to take jobs, but we are saying if you want the benefit at least you’ve got to show up with the responsibility to take part in an interview and see what work there is available for you.
This is just not about a new policy. It’s about a new ethos. It’s about offering a real service to people at a time of great anxiety and insecurity. But it is also about giving everyone a chance to make the most of their own potential. About giving everyone a chance to share in the rising prosperity of our nation.
Before our election, we issued a ten-point contract with the people. The first line of it was that we wanted to spend less on social and economic failure so we could spend more on investing in the future.
Today for the first time, the proportion of national income that we are spending on social security is going down, whereas the proportion of national income we are spending on education is going up. And that surely is the right priority. For this Parliament we will have a real terms rise of one percent in social security, when in respect of the health service and education is far more than that. And that one percent extra real terms spending on social security is in areas like child benefit, pensions, Working Families Tax Credit, where we are deliberately spending the money. So we are beginning through welfare reform, through a really concerted process, to take people off welfare and into work, to change round the dynamics of spending and investment in our country for the future.
Last week in Scotland, I met a young woman who just got a job through the New Deal. There was nothing more exciting for her or more gratifying than to know how much opportunity and possibility had opened up in her life. I want her experience to be the experience of many many more people. In today’s world we can offer people the opportunity to work. It will often not be the same job for all their lives. They will have to change jobs. They will have to learn new ways of working. They will have constantly to train and reskill throughout their working lives. The role of the State today is to help them to do that. In return, people have got a responsibility to try and take the chances that are available to them. But if we can build that into a new ethos, a new sense of a deal or bargain between the citizens in society where we provide opportunity and demand responsibility in return, then we will have improved not just our economy prospects; We’ll have improved the quality of our civic society as well.