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The real untold story of Iain Duncan Wilberforce

by Don Paskini     January 8, 2013 at 11:00 am

The comedians at Conservative Home recently described Iain Duncan Smith as ‘a latter-day Wilberforce’, comparing his work on welfare reform to the abolition of slavery.

This got me thinking – what if Wilberforce had adopted the approach to tackling slavery which this current government has adopted to tackling poverty?

Here is the story of Iain Duncan Wilberforce, the man who tried to end slavery:

Iain Duncan Wilberforce (24 August 1759 – 29 July 1833) was an English politician, philanthropist, and founder of the Centre for Slavery Justice (CSJ). A native of Essex, he began his political career in 1780, eventually becoming the independent Member of Parliament for Chingford (1784–1812). In 1780, he underwent a conversion experience and became an evangelical Christian, which resulted in major changes to his lifestyle and a lifelong concern for reform.

Wilberforce was convinced of the importance of religion, morality and education. His underlying conservatism led him to support politically and socially repressive legislation, and resulted in criticism that he was ignoring injustices at home while campaigning for the enslaved abroad.

In 1781, Wilberforce founded the Centre for Slavery Justice (CSJ). Through his work with the CSJ, he became convinced that traditional anti-slavery campaigning had an excessively narrow focus on ending the slave trade and making slavery illegal, an approach which Wilberforce dubbed ‘freedom plus a shilling’.

Instead, Wilberforce and the CSJ identified five Pathways to Slavery – Family Breakdown, Economic Dependency, Educational Failure, Addiction and Debt. He argued that slavery could not be addressed without a greater focus on the moral character of the slaves, as opposed to what he and his supporters dubbed the ‘politically correct, liberal elitist’ focus on slave owners.

In December 1783, William Pitt the Younger appointed Wilberforce as Secretary of State in his Coalition government, in order to put his ideas into action. Wilberforce published reports which claimed that slavery had increased by ‘three hundred billion drillion’ under the previous government (though independent fact checkers struggled to find the evidence on which these figures were based), and broadened the official government definition of slavery to reflect his concern with family breakdown and the dependency culture.

In a speech at a workhouse in South East London, Wilberforce argued that, “Across the Empire, there are children living in circumstances that simply cannot be captured by assessing whether their parents are slaves or free. There are many factors that impact on a child’s wellbeing and ability to succeed in life… and measuring slavery alone does little to represent the experience of those in pauperism”.

Asserting that ‘work is the best route out of slavery’, Wilberforce set out ambitious plans to ‘make slavery pay’, as well as Work Capability Assessments and Mandatory Work Activities to require paupers and the sick to undertake unpaid work in exchange for receiving the services provided by the workhouses. Wilberforce’s greatest achievement was the Welfare Reform Act of 1791, dubbed the ‘Strivers not Slaves or Skivers’ Act in the popular press.

Despite official government statistics claiming that these measures reduced the extent of slavery by ‘six hundred billion million drillion quadrillion’ over the following three years, the slave trade continued to flourish throughout Wilberforce’s time in office, much to the bemusement of Wilberforce and his key adviser Lord Freud. In later years, Wilberforce also came under criticism from some younger Conservatives, who campaigned for the official government definition of slavery to be extended to those who had to pay the new income tax.

In 1834, the House of Lords passed the Slavery Abolition Act, which abolished slavery in most of the British Empire from August 1834. This marked a rejection of the gradualist application favoured by Wilberforce, Freud and the CSJ, but proved to be far more effective than Wilberforce’s reforms had been.

The story of Iain Duncan Wilberforce and his role in the anti-slavery movement has mostly been forgotten today. But it is an important reminder of what can be achieved by a conservative politician who combines personal commitment to a cause with a determination to set aside or make up the evidence to support his own prejudices and priorities.

Crackdown on tax dodging a top public priority

by Don Paskini     December 18, 2012 at 1:00 pm

YouGov recently carried out a different kind of opinion poll. Instead of asking people whether they supported or opposed particular policies, they offered people the choice of different policies, and asked them to choose which they thought mattered more. Here are some of the results:

The policy which ‘won’ every time it was tested against any other was ‘Cracking down on companies that use accounting ploys to avoid paying profits tax in Britain’.

People backed a crackdown on tax dodging companies over a crackdown on welfare cheats by 52% to 39%.

Reducing unemployment was seen as more important than reducing inflation by 60% to 24%.

Improving the NHS was seen as more important than improving schools by 50% to 37%.

People were equally split on whether they favoured tougher sentences for criminals or tougher regulations on banks.

People preferred ending all immigration to leaving the European Union, but preferred cutting overseas aid to ending immigration.

Cutting overseas aid was seen as a higher priority than improving the NHS by 56% to 36%, but cracking down on tax dodging companies was seen as more important than cutting overseas aid by 57% to 34%.

How Early Action would help improve services

by Don Paskini     November 28, 2012 at 9:00 am

By Will Horwitz

The Ministry of Justice does ‘not propose to devote these limited public funds to less important cases on the basis that they could indirectly lead to more serious consequences for that person’ said Lord McNally, Justice Minister in the House of Lords, as he piloted the Legal Aid Bill through the House earlier this year.

‘Let’s not waste money on minor problems when we could spend more once they’ve become extremely serious’ doesn’t sound like a promising mantra by which to reduce public spending, but is the default option for a department forced to make short-term spending cuts with little room for manoeuvre. Meeting this year’s budget target is the only target (and is well-rewarded), irrespective of the impact on your own, or others’ budgets in years to come.

These powerful public spending incentives to act for the short term in government are a significant barrier to the kind of investment in prevention which would transform public services. In a report published today the Early Action Task Force estimate as much as 40% of public spending goes on dealing with problems that could have been tackled earlier. Only 20% goes on early, preventative action. The Task Force, chaired by Community Links’ David Robinson spans the sectors, a disparate group united in their shock at the wasted potential these figures represent.

Programmes involving significant long term investment are exceptions proving the rule. Take the Olympics, a 15 year commitment honoured and delivered by successive governments and local administrations. They couldn’t have happened any other way, and indeed little else is happening that way.

Youth offending costs the nation just as much as the Olympic games every year,. £11bn. Successive short term programmes have shown how the costs, social and financial, could be significantly reduced with earlier action yet year after year the overwhelming majority of the budget is spent on imprisonment, less than 10% is invested in prevention. Here is just one challenge that can only be met with long term collaboration and sustained commitment. There are many more.

Ed Balls recognised this in his party conference speech earlier this year when he said that an incoming Labour government would not “duck the hard long-term issues we know we haven’t properly faced up to and which transcend parties and parliaments and where we badly need a cross-party consensus.’

He proposed ‘… a long-term plan to support the most vulnerable in our society – looked-after children and adults needing social care.’ The underlying rationale he said ‘is not just about policy, but about the kind of country we want to be and the way we do our politics.’

Of course this option will always look more attractive from the opposition benches than it will from No 11 whoever occupies those seats but the Canadian experience of sustained cross-party support for a consistent approach to criminal justice shows that it is neither naïve nor impractical for the major parties in a parliamentary democracy to collaborate on the kind of agenda that cries out for sustained commitment to long-term goals and strategies.

We could do better earlier. This is a practical proposition but it calls for a different kind of politics, one that values sustainable solutions above short term goals, and a different kind of leadership, one that builds on common sense, in opposition and in government. Understand this and grip the challenge and in the coming years there will be more to make us proud than one glorious summer.

5 thoughts on the great Work Programme fiasco

by Don Paskini     November 27, 2012 at 2:25 pm

The government published figures for their Work Programme, designed to help unemployed people to find work. Here are five thoughts on the figures:

1. Performance has been way below the minimum threshold… The Guardian is reporting that 3.5% of people have got jobs lasting at least six months, against a minimum performance target of 5.5%. But today’s figures cover a fourteen month period. So the like for like comparison is that just 2.3% of people have got long term jobs, less than half the minimum performance level.

2. …and the Work Programme has been especially ineffective at helping disabled people. The proportion of people in receipt of Employment Support Allowance who have been helped by the Work Programme to find long term work is 0.93%, according to analysis by the Social Market Foundation. Scope’s analysis found that out of 79,000 Employment and Support Allowance claimants, only 1,000 have been in work for six months.

3. As predicted, workfare doesn’t work. One element of the Work Programme which government ministers have been keen to talk up is about forcing people to participate in ‘workfare’ schemes, where their benefits are conditional on them doing work. It’s worth remembering that this is only one element of the Work Programme, and that many of the participants would either have got jobs without any assistance, or benefited from help with CVs, interview practice, finding out about job opportunities and other sorts of support which providers offered. The number who got paid work as a result of workfare must, therefore, have been absolutely minimal.

4. The fact that none of the providers did well shows that the Work Programme is fundamentally flawed. The Work Programme was designed to give providers the flexibility to do whatever they thought would be effective in supporting people into work, rather than government prescribing one single approach. The fact that none of the providers, private or voluntary, were able to meet the minimum performance targets shows that there is something fundamentally wrong with the programme which goes beyond any individual organisation.

5. But some providers did do better than others. It should come as no surprise to anyone that a4e performed particularly badly in helping people into work. Of the four areas where they were prime contractors, they were top performers in precisely none.

In contrast, Ingeus are prime contractors in six regions, and in every single region, they helped more people into work than the other providers working in the same region.

What’s interesting about this is that Ingeus pay their Employment Advisers substantially more than most other providers, with the aim of recruiting highly skilled people who are able to offer personalised support to help people into work.

This isn’t a magic solution which can overcome all the flaws of the Work Programme, but it is an interesting piece of evidence which is worth remembering the next time you see a public service reformer publish yet another pamphlet calling for public service pay to be held down and asserting that changing structures will lead to better outcomes.

David Cameron threw away the best programme to get youths into jobs

by Don Paskini     November 26, 2012 at 10:50 am

New research published by the government has found that the Future Jobs Fund, which David Cameron described as ‘one of the most ineffective jobs schemes ever seen’ was in fact, erm, one of the most effective jobs schemes ever seen.

The report found that:

‘Under the baseline assumptions the FJF programme is estimated to result in:
– a net benefit to participants of approximately £4,000 per participant;
– a net benefit to employers of approximately £6,850 per participant;
– a net cost to the Exchequer of approximately £3,100 per participant;
– a net benefit to society of approximately £7,750 per participant.

The report also found that ‘the full estimated impact of FJF would be to reduce time on welfare support by 59 days and increase unsubsidised employment by 90 days over the four years after starting a job’.

The Department of Work and Pensions deserves credit for commissioning and publishing this research, but shame on the Tories and Lib Dems who voted, as one of their first acts in government, to cut this programme without waiting for the evidence about whether it worked or not.

Next time you hear a government minister talking about ‘welfare dependency’ or the need to get people into work and off benefits, remember that for the last two years, they could have kept this programme, worked to improve it and made a real difference to reducing youth unemployment.

Instead, they cut it and introduced the new and untested Work Programme, which has helped fewer than 1 in 20 people into jobs lasting at least six months.

This is what happens when welfare policy is run by a group of very privileged people who are more concerned about what sounds good than what works.

According to their own research and advisors, policies like the benefits cap which they claim will save money risk in fact end up costing more in increased homelessness than it saves.

And the policies which they scrap to save money, like the Future Jobs Fund, end up being the ones which benefit participants, employers and society, at a net cost to the taxpayer of around half as much as predicted.

Being poor like a ‘corpse at funeral’, says minister

by Don Paskini     November 23, 2012 at 11:53 am

Lord Freud, government welfare reform minister and general buffoon, was recently interviewed by House Magazine. The interview appears to have been conducted in the style of ‘are there any thoughts you would like to share with a grateful nation, minister?’, with Freud setting out his vision as a noble reformer, untroubled by any facts about how his reforms are working in practice.

The interviewer did, however, briefly allow reality to intrude when asking what Freud know of a life where £10 less to spend each week makes a difference.

His answer: “We have a lot of information feedback and listen a lot, so I think we can absorb the information about what it takes and what’s required…I think you don’t have to be the corpse to go to a funeral, which is the implied criticism there.”

It’s a good reminder that the government’s welfare reforms are led by people whose privileged backgrounds mean that they have no idea about what’s really going on.

Update 1
Gingerbread have an excellent blog to enable lone parents to tell Lord Freud what life is really like for parents who receive state support – well worth a read.

Update 2 (by Sunny)
Liam Byrne MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, has issued a response to Freud’s comments:

The nasty party is well and truly back.

Lord Freud is a former investment banker and now a minister of the crown. For him of all people to compare people on benefits to corpses and likening their lives to a funeral is quite frankly disgusting.

This government’s so-called welfare revolution is collapsing around its ears. The work programme isn’t working. Universal Credit has become universal chaos. Yet Lord Freud’s response is to kick people when they are down and not even pretend to offer a helping hand. Lord Freud should be ashamed of himself, and his government should too.

Oddly, Liam Byrne doesn’t mention that Lord Freud was previously hired by Labour MP James Purnell to sort out welfare.

This isn’t about a nasty party but a nasty individual who should never have been allowed near welfare.

Why Labour’s economic policy needs independent research

by Don Paskini     November 22, 2012 at 1:58 pm

LabourList’s Mark Ferguson notes that “Adopting a Tory-lite line on the economy may pay polling dividends for Labour.

But then again, it might not. And that – in electoral terms at least – is Labour’s big dilemma. It also shows why it’s foolish to make policy calls on the basis of polling (not least because of the law of unintended consequences).”

I agree that this is a dilemma, but I don’t see why it follows that it is foolish to make policy calls on the basis of polling. Instead, this seems like a case where further research would be particularly valuable.

There are some people in the Labour Party who believe passionately that Labour needs to adopt a more fiscally conservative approach. Others believe that Labour needs to develop a fiscally realistic approach while avoiding being locked into Conservative spending limits. Still others think that Labour needs to be stronger in resisting the cuts and spelling out a more radical alternative.

So Progress are spending money on roadshows about ‘what would we give up to get universal childcare’, while the Fabians hold a Commission on Future Spending Choices, and the trade unions fund the new Class think tank. Substantial amounts of time and money are poured into this in order to influence the Labour leadership.

This is not an effective use of resources. No pressure group will pay for research which asks the toughest questions of its own proposals, or which doesn’t find support for their cherished causes.

In the Unfinished Revolution, the late Philip Gould wrote about how voters in the focus groups in the mid 90s talked about their willingness to pay more tax. This didn’t fit with what Labour modernisers wanted to hear, so they simply ignored it and assumed that people were lying.

Instead, if these different groups decided to pool their resources and work together, then the results could be much more interesting. Each could come up with their best messages, and then these could be tested against each other both quantitatively and qualitatively to see which ones connected with the public.

They could develop the toughest attack messages against each other’s proposals, and see whether these moved the focus groups and polls. We could really start to find out whether spelling out plans to cut services for pensioners would be applauded as Labour ‘getting it’ about the need to reduce spending, whether working class people would rally behind a strong no cuts message, whether Labour could win greater support by pledging to cut less and tax more, and all the other assertions which are regularly made.

No piece of research will ever prove what a political party should do. There are all sorts of reasons why it can be right to do something which seems or is unpopular with a majority.

But rather than wasting money on preaching to the converted, wouldn’t it be refreshing if different groups which passionately believed that their approach will help Labour win the next election were prepared to work together and put their ideas to an independent test?

What voters really think of Labour

by Don Paskini     November 21, 2012 at 10:17 am

Lord Ashcroft has published some new polling research about public perceptions of the Labour Party. He argues that to win the next election, Ed Miliband needs to make clear to his supporters that there will be no return to the days of lavish spending, or fight an election knowing that most voters do not believe Labour have learned their lessons, and that many of his potential voters fear Labour would once again borrow and spend more than the country can afford.

I think the most interesting bit of the research, though, is about what people in focus groups say about recent political developments.

Firstly, a few focus group participants had registered Miliband’s conference speech. His being the son of immigrants was the fact that had made the most impact, and was not always regarded in an entirely positive light.

One ‘Labour considerer’ in Nuneaton noted, ‘He said recently he was over here because his parents were immigrants, and I wasn’t sure about that’, while another was reassured that ‘at least [his family] weren’t gypsies. Or one of those people who make bombs’.

In contrast, only a handful of participants had noted that Miliband had announced that Labour was a ‘One Nation’ party, and they had no idea what he meant by this, except that it might be about keeping the UK together rather than letting Scotland become independent.

Apart from Ed Miliband, the only other Labour politicians who were mentioned by more than one focus group member were Ed Balls (mixed views) and Andy Burnham (popular in the North West).

Best of all, though, was the response by someone in Thurrock who had switched to Labour since 2010, when asked to name some prominent Labour politicians:

“Michael Foot. No, I’m thinking of Heseltine. And there’s Galloway”.

Now that really is One Nation Labour – the party of Michael Heseltine and George Galloway.

Half Time Report: How are the Lib Dems doing?

by Don Paskini     November 20, 2012 at 11:32 am

Last week’s election results have generally been regarded as a disaster for the Liberal Democrats. A lost deposit in Corby, no victories in the Police Commissioner elections, no wonder Party President Tim Farron described it as a ‘painful day’.

Half way through the current Parliament, many are predicting that the Lib Dems will be wiped out at the next election.

However, I think that the election results were actually rather good for the Lib Dems, and show that their future may well be brighter than many expect.

The Police Commissioner elections could hardly have been more challenging for the Lib Dems. They were held on a single issue which the party has historically been tarred as ‘soft’ on, across large electoral areas which undermine their ability to deploy effective local campaigning.

And yet, in places like Kent in Tory Middle England and North Wales in Ye Labour Heartlands, ‘Independent’ Liberal Democrats were elected. In the Lib Dem heartlands of Devon and Cornwall, the Tory polled 55,257 to 23,948 for the Lib Dem candidate – but a further 34,780 voted for two ‘Independents’ – both of whom had been Lib Dem councillors.

Meanwhile, in Bristol, Labour activists claimed that ‘Bristol First’ candidate George Ferguson was a Liberal Democrat in disguise. Sure enough, Ferguson won easily in the traditional Liberal Democrat manner by ensuring that anti-Labour voters realised that it was a two horse race and persuading Tory and Lib Dem supporters to back him.

The Lib Dem coalition of support pre-2010 was made up of a small number of people who philosophically believed in economic and social liberalism, a larger number of people on the centre left, and a big group of people who didn’t like party politics and wanted to vote for someone independent minded who would [s]tell them what they wanted to hear[/s] be a local champion. Their challenge was always to ensure that their national policies didn’t get wide enough circulation to undermine their local campaigners (for example, people in the South West who want to leave the EU or tactical Tory voters who don’t believe in rehabilitating prisoners or an amnesty for migrant workers).

Over the past two years, Nick Clegg and his advisers have been determinedly trying to focus the Lib Dem vote down to those who would vote for a European style social and economic liberal party, a triumphant strategy which has been reflected in the opinion polls. As a result, in places without a Lib Dem MP, their share of the vote is likely to collapse at the next General Election. But under the First Past the Post voting system, the net impact of that will be a big heap of so what.

In places where they have an MP, however, then they can run as quasi independents. They can emphasise their independence from the government, point to good local works and remind people that the choice is between them and someone even less appealing. What the PCC elections show is that there are still a good number of people who will vote for the traditional Liberal Democrat two horse race anti-party politics offer, (albeit trading under a different brand name).

It probably won’t work everywhere where they currently hold seats. But if former Lib Dem party members can get elected to run the police in Kent and the council in Bristol, and if the Lib Dem leadership modifies even very slightly its political strategy of alienating all of their former supporters, then 2015 may bring another election with the Lib Dems holding the balance of power.

Open thread: who will win the US elections?

by Don Paskini     October 31, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Less than one week to go til the US elections, so let’s have an open thread about what you think is going to happen. Will Sunny’s campaigning help power Obama to re-election, or will Mitt Romney and his billionaire backers prevail? Predictions can be as general or specific as you would like, and the person who gets closest will have the glory of being the inaugural Liberal Conspiracy election prediction winner!

For all the latest news about the election, I read Five Thirty Eight and Daily Kos Elections. Any other recommendations gratefully received…

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