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Clashing Agendas 246Clashing Agendas

Early in the 2000's, politicians across the political spectrum in the UK agreed that our benefit system was broken - it was very complex, kept people on benefits, disincented work, was open to fraud and costs were increasing. 

David Freud, an investment banker, was commissioned by the Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, in one of his last political initiatives. to develop welfare proposals in 2007, These proposals proved popular across all political parties. Then the Conservatives came calling and David Freud accepted the job of reforming the system, initially in the shadow ministerial team and then in Government.

His core motivation was to end the welfare trap, by which the legacy systems made it difficult for many people to free themselves from dependency on the state.

In his book, Clashing Agendas, David tells the inside story of his battles - with Westminster and Whitehall alike - to modernize our welfare system. Some battles were lost but most were won. Amongst his reforms was the highly controversial introduction of Universal Credit. It concludes with his views both on future development of the welfare system and on how the UK Government might organise itself to introduce major system reforms more successfully in future.

It is a riveting dialogue-driven account of how Government really works (or not). A lot of improvements could be made and the stress on individuals was extreme!

One thing that does stand out to me is the wisdom and experience shown in the House of Lords. "In the Commons, Government and Opposition traded political abuse. The dynamic in the Lords discouraged such interchange.... It allowed quite rational discussion of the underlying issues involved in any topic." Many suggestions were made based on the experience and wisdom of the Lords and many adopted.

If you feel strongly about Universal Credit then I suggest you should read this book to see just how difficult it is to devise and implement such policies along with an IT system. This system proved so necessary in the epidemic to handle millions of new applicants. The old legacy system would have buckled!

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Geoff Knott, 14/07/2021

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