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Now teach the sinks to swim

KAREN MATTHEWS isn’t working class. Until she was handed a mop in prison, she’d never done a day’s work in her life.
She was part of a welfare class. Seven children by five fathers and £1,400 a month in benefits that she called her “wage”.
Her behaviour was deplorable. But so was the system that financed it. And its death knell may sound next week.
The appalling kidnap of Shannon Matthews was a rare act of evil. But the welfare game she played is widespread.
In some of Britain’s sink estates, a baby is seen as the key to getting a house and an income stream.
If you take people away from the need to work, leave them to fester in a welfare ghetto, then things fall apart. Work is about dignity, as well as economy. When you pay people not to work, you mess with human nature.
The problem was put best by Sir Norman Bettison, the chief constable who investigated the kidnap of Shannon. The welfare-dependent, he said, never need to go out. They become “almost hidden, secret parts of our community”.
And because they don’t interact with the rest of society, “norms of behaviour, for them, are whatever they can get away with”.
The case of Baby P showed this, too. It’s a part of Britain we hardly ever see until kids are stabbed, killed or kidnapped.
And while we condemn the evil, we should also condemn the system that incubates this evil.
That means reforming the welfare state, something no government has had the guts to do properly.
Until now. Next week we’ll see a shake-up so radical that even the Tories think it’s too tough.
What happened? Two words — James Purnell. Since becoming Work and Pensions Secretary, he’s moved at breakneck speed.
When I saw his draft plans in the spring, I suspected he was just talking tough. Denying welfare to the mothers of ten-year-olds? I thought Gordon Brown would never let him. And if he did, Labour MPs would hang young Purnell up by his inch-long sideburns.
I was wrong. His plans come out on Wednesday, and they are bad news for the Karen Matthews of this world.
He’s talking about turning off the welfare tap after the youngest child’s THIRD birthday, not its 16th. Incapacity benefit, which judges a ludicrous 2.6m unfit to do any work at all, will be scrapped.
Everyone will be tested for the work they can do. If they can clean a park, they’ll be expected to.
And all this straight into the headwind of the worst economic slowdown since Bruce Forsyth was in nappies.
Given that Tony Blair wimped out of modest welfare reform in the boom years, it seems Purnell has a death wish.
But he’s backed by Gordo, who needs to pick a fight with the Labour left — so he can fight accusations that he has buried New Labour. And trust me, there will be a fight. The so-called ‘Compass’ group of socialist Labour MPs reckon they can defeat Purnell.
The odds are that Chris Grayling, Purnell’s dogged Tory counterpart, will throw him a lifeline. Then the real work will start.
I hear Gordo’s internal polling shows ‘tough love’ welfare reform is more popular since the recession. When every penny counts, paying millions to do nothing is a luxury none can afford.
We couldn’t afford it in the boom years, either. It is perhaps Gordo’s single greatest failure.
Perhaps the sinner repenteth. Perhaps the sinner just wants to sound harder than the Tories. Doesn’t matter.
The welfare ghettoes are the bedrock of what’s become Broken Britain. And fixing this appalling problem is a task that can’t wait another day.

 

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