Tories put welfare reform at heart of conference

By Ian Dunt

The Conservatives have opted to make their plans for welfare reform the centre-piece of their conference agenda.

Plans originally drawn up by David Freud for Tony Blair have now been taken up in full by the Tory leadership, including a consolidation of Labour’s various back-to-work programmes into one single programme.

Those on incapacity support will be forced to go through a thorough series of tests, and some of them put onto jobseekers’ allowance, thereby cutting their weekly claim by £25.

Private firms would then receive government contracts to get them into work, in a plan which replaces the New Deal.

“We face a twin crisis in this country,” David Cameron said this morning.

“We have a debt crisis, but we also have a very, very serious jobs crisis. What we are doing is making it the centre-piece of our conference, a really massive get Britain working programme.”

In a series of promises reminiscent of Labour’s stream of initiatives last week, the Tories are promising 50,000 annual work pairing placements, 100,000 additional apprenticeships and training places per year, 50,000 additional training places at further education colleges and an expansion of the government’s Young Apprenticeship (YA) scheme.

The release of solid policy details is being treated as a direct riposte to Labour claims that the Tories have ‘no substance’, and a defensive manoeuvre against Gordon Brown’s detailed and policy-filled conference speech last week.