I've been doing a little bit of homework on the Wisconsin model of welfare reform, much favoured by David Cameron's Conservatives these days.
Here's a chilling extract from a piece by Johann Hari in the Independent:
"Let's look at what happens to when you go into a benefits centre in Wisconsin to seek help. You will almost certainly be a woman with kids: 90 per cent of claimants are. You will be assigned a Financial and Employment Planner, who will show you a "ladder". The top rung is your goal: unsubsidised employment in the private sector. The next rung is subsidised work in the private sector, or a community service job created to provide the unemployed with something constructive to do. You will be matched up with one of these jobs. If you fail to turn up, you will be punished. For every hour you miss, you will be docked $5.15 from your benefits. If you don't turn up at all, you don't get anything. Then they'll tell you that having kids makes no difference. Unless you have a baby that is less than three months old, you have to work full-time in whatever job they assign you. Put your kids in daycare and get out there. Then they explain the real kicker. There is a federal time limit for benefits. In your entire life, you can only ever claim two years' worth of government help. Every week you receive government subsidy, the clock is ticking. Once your two years are up, you won't get any help, ever again."
It's left to the voluntary sector - to churches, food banks, homeless shelters and charities - to pick up the pieces. This seems to me to be pretty similar to what was being proposed by the Tories in the 1980s, although it's presented as new thinking. It's scary to think it could happen here.
Most lone parents in this country want to work. 57% of them already do. But sometimes circumstances make it incredibly difficult for them to stay in jobs - lack of childcare, lack of transport, lack of flexible working, needing to take time off to look after sick children, finding they're not actually better off in work when things like school meals and travel costs are taken into account. The Government will be tightening up rules soon, so that lone parents with a child over the age of 12 will be required to move from Income Support to Job Seekers Allowance; I support this, but we need to be sure that other elements of the package are in place - childcare, family-friendly employers, tax credits to boost in-work income, etc - before they're required to do so.