Tuesday, 20 December 2011

A lesson from the Bible for the Minister for Welfare Reform

Last week in the House of Lords in a debate on the Welfare Reform Bill Lord Freud, the government minster for welfare reform, invoked one of Jesus’ parables. Lord Freud was in the middle of Justifying the proposed government policy that those who have had their Jobseekers Allowance removed for thee yehttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifars because they have not complied with the requirements set by a Job centre should not be able to start receiving Jobseekers Allowance again by simply reengaging with the requests of a jobcentre but instead should hold down a job for at least six months before they can receive Jobseekers Allowance again. This lead to the following exchange:

Lord Freud: I think I can safely say that we are not saying that. We are just saying that we want real proof of a change. The prodigal son must do more than turn up and warm his hands on the fire as the fatted calf is slaughtered. I am saying that he has to take a job and hold it for a minimum of six months.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Could the noble Lord perhaps move from the Old Testament to the New Testament?

Lord Freud: I thought it was the New Testament. It is definitely a New Testament matter. I am shocked that the noble Baroness-

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I was a Methodist.

Lord Freud: I am utterly shocked. Let me keep going; the hour is late and I am forgetting what I am talking about very quickly.

Whilst he has correctly identified the testament the parable appears in, he does seem to have forgotten what the parable actually says. The prodigal son does just turn up and is forgiven by his father. It seems rather odd for the Minister to invoke this particular parable as part of a defence of conditionality requirements. Conditionality requirements on Job seekers say that that unless someone works hard enough to try and find a job they should not receive any help. Supporters of this policy can sound like the cry of the prodigal son’s older brother who complains that he doesn’t deserve any help because he’s wasted his time doing things he shouldn’t have been whilst he’s been working hard. The government’s position seems distinctly different to that of the father in the parable.

A few days after the debate David Cameron made a speech supporting the importance biblical values have on politics. Perhaps in the future he may want to have a word with Lord Freud that it might not be the best idea to invoke a biblical parable and then directly contradict it.