Welfare reform

THIRTEEN years after Tony Blair asked Frank Field to think the unthinkable on welfare reform, the coalition Government is attempting to make up for Labour's failure.

In spite of the billions poured into the welfare budget by Gordon Brown, it is a fact that, during Labour's time in office, there were never fewer than five million on the dole. What the welfare state's architect, William Beveridge, called the "giant evil" of idleness became unofficial state policy as the long-term unemployed were paid to stay at home while jobs were filled by eager foreign migrants.

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No one in politics is better equipped to lance this boil than Iain Duncan Smith. Since his ill-fated spell as Conservative leader, he has devoted himself to the cause of welfare reform and his appointment as Work and Pensions Secretary suggests that David Cameron is behind him all the way.

He will need all the help he can get. When Mr Duncan Smith launches his White Paper this week, he may find that his fiercest opponents are not on the benches opposite, but in a Treasury that is only too wary of any proposals that will cost money and in a civil service that has grown institutionally resistant to change.

We wish Mr Duncan Smith well. But he will need the support of Downing Street all the way and even that may not be enough. After all, Mr Blair once supported Mr Field.