Migrant benefits debate highlights need for a bigger conversation

Today Prime Minister David Cameron outlined the Coalition’s proposals to introduce controls on welfare benefits paid to migrants from the EU.  (See the BBC report)

The debate about welfare entitlements for immigrants seems a proxy for the kind of conversation we should be having about our benefits system as a whole.

During the National Conversation on Britain’s welfare state we kept returning to the issue of  contribution.  We found people were concerned about others getting ‘something for nothing’.  Not because they resented paying for it, more because they worried it fed a dependency culture.

The political classes are now talking about how migrants need to contribute to the UK welfare system before they can access public services and support.  But we haven’t yet begun the big conversation we need on building a fair and affordable welfare system.

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Postcard from Brum

Today the party conference season came to an end as David Cameron delivered his address to the Tory faithful in Birmingham.

Yet again, Beveridge was on the agenda with the Prime Minister promising welfare reforms “just as profound as those of Beveridge 60 years ago.” (actually, 70 years)

David Cameron went on to update Beveridge’s ‘Giant Evils’ for 2012.  Instead of  Squalor, Ignorance, Want, Idleness and Disease, Cameron offered Unfairness, Injustice and Bureaucracy as the key challenges for our society.

We’re delighted to see all the parties picking up on the National Conversation agenda.  Next week, we’ll find out what people beyond the Westminster Bubble have to say about the future of welfare.

Why we’re here

Prime Minister David Cameron, in his foreword to the Ministerial Code of Conduct, pretty much sums up what the National Conversation is about: “People have lost faith in politics and politicians.  It is our duty to restore their trust.”

We believe the duty to re-connect people with politics shouldn’t end with government ministers or MPs.  By engaging people in a real conversation  – and learning more about how we, as citizens, can shape the Westminster agenda – the National Conversation can help restore trust and strengthen our institutions.

Get out and make your case

In today’s Sunday Telegraph, Janet Daley takes the Conservative leadership to task for a failure to engage with its own party or the wider public.

Daley doesn’t pull any punches, warning against “policy-by-focus-group” and advising David Cameron and George Osborne to leave “the bunker” and start to test and temper their ideas in the crucible of public debate.

Key quote: “the greatest danger in refusing to engage with argument … is that you never get to test your position and perfect your case. This weakness – the inability to anticipate objections and pitfalls because you have not bothered to construct a rigorous defence – has cost the Tory leadership a great deal…”

Getting out and engaging with people always carries a risk.  But by not starting a real and meaningful conversation with the public, politicians risk being left behind.