BBC NewsAndrew Marr Show


Page last updated at 08:11 GMT, Sunday, 20 July 2008 09:11 UK

Pick yourselves up off the floor

On Sunday 20 July Andrew Marr interviewed James Purnell MP, Work and Pensions Secretary

The Welfare Secretary James Purnell appeals to despondent Labour supporters.

James Purnell MP
James Purnell MP, Work and Pensions Secretary

ANDREW MARR: Thank you for coming in.

JAMES PURNELL: Good morning.

ANDREW MARR: Those are the, the key headlines are they?

Incapacity Benefit, at least the name Incapacity Benefit, goes?

JAMES PURNELL: Yeah I mean the, the changes we're going to bring in are going to I think change the lives of hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of people.

And I guess the key things which we will be doing, one is abolishing Incapacity Benefit but giving people on Incapacity Benefit, up to two million people help to get back to health and get back into work so tackling those scars which have been there for generations.

ANDREW MARR: People watching will say abolishing Incapacity Benefit - in fact I mean there's a new name but there will still be a benefit.

JAMES PURNELL: But it's a completely different benefit. The old benefit was actually designed in a way which made people more likely to end up dependent and actually ended up damaging their health 'cause it was based on what people couldn't do rather than what they could.

So we're going to completely change that. But the worst thing about the old system was people given no help at all. You know they weren't given help to improve their health, to get back to work, to improve their confidence. We will make sure for the first time that everybody gets that help.

And one of the revolutionary things that will happen is we will also be using the sort of, the future benefit expenditure, the benefits that we would have spent if people had stayed on the benefit. We'll use that money now to get them back into health and back into work.

ANDREW MARR: Those who you suspect actually could be working and have deliberately not worked, because you know there is quite a sort of tough aspect to all of this.

There are lots of people who you believe should be working and simply are just taking benefit. There's going to be lots of tough measures for them including these medical checks and including checks on people who have drug problems.

JAMES PURNELL: Yeah. Well let me say we will never go back to the kind of stigmatisation which we saw from Peter Lilley there.

And instead what we want to do is having a system which has the sort of, the support and the responsibility. We think it's absolutely vital to have both.

So if you look at people with really serious drug problems you know they're desperate to get back into work and to get clean so we ..

ANDREW MARR: Some are. Not all of them.

JAMES PURNELL: No the vast majority are. If you look at what the charities say about drug addicts the vast majority are.

And there's no point treating people as jobseekers when the, the key thing is to be dealing with their, their drug addiction problem. So we want to find out who those people are and then provide them with much better support.

But also expect them to take up that support. 'Cause the last thing that taxpayers want is their money to be going straight into the hands and the pockets of drug dealers.

ANDREW MARR: And what about the medical checks? Not, not your own doctor in future because there's a suspicion that doctors have simply got to sort of deal as it were, some doctors with some people and simply keep passing sick notes to people who really shouldn't have them.

JAMES PURNELL: Yeah we want a system which indentifies the right people, provides more help for people who've got the greatest disabilities.

So we'll be putting the benefits that they get up. But then offering other people the support to get back into work. And that's because you know when I talk to disabled people there is a massive revolution going on in terms of the civil rights of disabled people.

They achieve absolutely extraordinary things and we want to give them support to do that. So we're going to make it easier for employers to hire disabled people. For example we'll help with the cost of sign language interpreters or getting to work or specialised equipment.

And we're also going to give disabled people the right to take the money that they get as an individual budget, as a payment which they can use and decide how to use, so it improves the control that they have over their lives and the support that they get from us.

ANDREW MARR: You're talking as if all of this is cuddly as if there's no hard aspect to it at all.

JAMES PURNELL: No I'm not at all. I'm saying support and responsibility. And if people don't live up to that expectation that they should take up the support then of course people can lose their benefits.

You know for people who are looking for work we'll be saying to people if they play the system that they will have to work to get their benefit. So there's a very clear sanction at the end of the line but the key thing Andrew ..


JAMES PURNELL: .. this is very important, is, in an ideal world you don't want to use the sanction. You want people to take up the support ..

ANDREW MARR: But it's, but we're not in an ideal world.

JAMES PURNELL: .. because we know, the key point is we know that the support works. So that's why conditionality as we call it is the abs.. absolute ally of social justice 'cause it gets people into the support that we know works, that will reduce unemployment, reduce poverty and increase the chances of those lives, those communities and those families.

ANDREW MARR: To get people into work, if they've been on benefits for a long time you say they're going to have to work for four weeks. Now as I understood it the current system in many cases requires people to work for nine weeks. So actually they're working for less. You know it's going to be less tough than the current system.

JAMES PURNELL: No not at all. The system gets more demanding the longer people are unemployed. So we will use that sanction of requiring people to work for their benefits at any time when people are playing the system. Then after one year they'll have to do a minimum of four weeks.

But they would be with private and voluntary sector providers who can require them to work full time if they think that's the right thing. And then after two years, that's when you move to full time working for benefits where that's the right thing for the people involved.

ANDREW MARR: All of this means that some people will be coming off these kind of benefits and back onto the unemployment register at a time when unemployment is already going up doesn't it?

JAMES PURNELL: No I mean it's absolutely clear that if you have a situation where people are on Incapacity Benefit their lives are not being supported in the right way. So we're not going to say just because people end up on JSA we're not going to do this. That would be the wrong thing.

ANDREW MARR: But you accept my point?

JAMES PURNELL: Look I don't think it's the ... the important point. The important point ..


JAMES PURNELL: .. is there are lives here which are being scarred ..

ANDREW MARR: It's just, it's just, it's just that all governments you know defend themselves on, on their unemployment record and unemployment as a result of this if it works is bound to go up. You said a very interesting thing in a newspaper article today which really struck me.

I thought a rare moment - not a rare moment of honesty from a ... but you know a clear moment of honesty. You said that governments had been using Incapacity Benefit to massage the unemployment figures.

JAMES PURNELL: Actually what I said was that the Conservatives did that in the eighties when they created ..

ANDREW MARR: You didn't say Conservatives you said governments.

JAMES PURNELL: .. when they, when they, when they created the, the system. And no the point is we've got unemployment down by ..

ANDREW MARR: Has your government done that?

JAMES PURNELL: We've got the - no actually we've been acting on this for the last ten years. And it used to rise by a hundred thousand a year. It's now falling for the first time.

We want to get a million people off Incapacity Benefit by twenty fifteen. This is a radical change which will improve the lives of people all around this country. We used to have whole regions that were unemployed. Now we have little pockets of our cities ..


JAMES PURNELL: And we need to deal with that. And that is exactly what these plans will do.

ANDREW MARR: Now we teased you a bit at the beginning with all those previous people holding your job saying much the same thing.

I mean I can remember Gordon Brown and Tony Blair standing side by side back in the late nineties saying we are going to get people off these benefits. We're going to be very tough about it.

JAMES PURNELL: But Andrew that's ..

ANDREW MARR: Again and again and again.

JAMES PURNELL: .. exactly what we've done. But Andrew that's exactly what we've done.


JAMES PURNELL: We started - no let me put, make this point Andrew. We started with young unemployed people with the New Deal. That worked. We extended it to older unemployed people.

That worked. We then experimented with the right approach for lone parents and people on IB. We know that that works and that's what we're going to roll out. We have halved the number of people in unemployment ..

ANDREW MARR: If it was ..

JAMES PURNELL: .. and that is going to be completed by these changes that we're bringing in so that responsibility is right at the heart of the welfare state.

ANDREW MARR: If it's, if it's been working so brilliantly why are there more people on IB than there were when you came into power in nineteen ninety seven?

JAMES PURNELL: There are not actually. It's just about the same level. But if you put ..

ANDREW MARR: It's slightly more ..

JAMES PURNELL: No Andrew, if you put ..

ANDREW MARR: .. after all these schemes ..


ANDREW MARR: .. it's more.

JAMES PURNELL: Andrew if you look at what happened it went up from seven hundred thousand in nineteen seventy nine to two point six million. After that it kept on going up by about a hundred thousand a year which was the trend we inherited from the Tories. We turned it round. It has now started to come down for the last eight years.

That is the first time that that's happened. And we now have a b... bold goal really of getting another million people off by twenty fifteen. Because of these changes we think we can achieve that. That is a radical and fundamental change in our welfare system and I think it's one that people will welcome.

ANDREW MARR: This all came from a guy who had been employed initially by Tony Blair to look at these matters. Gordon Brown came in, pushed him to one side David ... I'm talking about and you've brought him back again. Is that causing you any problems with the prime minister?

JAMES PURNELL: Not at all. Gordon Brown and I have worked on this hand in glove. I think people would have seen from the, the way the report was actually leaked last week that sometimes it's quite hard getting things through government. We would not have been able to do that without the enthusiastic support of the prime minister.

ANDREW MARR: This will not make you a popular man on parts of the Labour benches will it?

JAMES PURNELL: I completely disagree. I think that people who see the way that Incapacity Benefit or drug addiction or deep unemployment can scar communities are desperate to turn that round. And when I talk to my colleagues they want a system that provides support for people but also responsibility. And what the Tories want to do is to ask people to be responsible ..


JAMES PURNELL: No but Andrew, let me just finish. They want people to be responsible but not to provide the support. You know David Cameron wants to get rid of the tax credits which have helped people to be lifted out of poverty and to get on. We want to provide both and that's an approach which lots of my Labour colleagues wholeheartedly back.

ANDREW MARR: Apart from those in the papers today like Jeremy Corben saying they're, they're appalled by this.

JAMES PURNELL: Well I've known Jeremy for a long time. There's quite a lot of government policy as you know that he's not ..


JAMES PURNELL: .. always enthusiastic about. Look we have a system now which isn't working for those people as well as it should. The scars which have been there for generations, we want to put them right. The Conservatives have said that they'll support our policies and we welcome that 'cause that means that we can do the right thing for the country.

But what they are not yet doing is providing the support as well. And they're saying they want to dismantle tax credits. That is the wrong approach. The right approach is support and responsibility. I think it will transform the rights of disabled people and the lives of millions of people in this country.

ANDREW MARR: All right. Bit of general politics if ..


ANDREW MARR: .. we may. Looking at the poll that I mentioned right at the start of the programme, the Labour Party's heading for absolute slaughter or catastrophe at the next general election and yet ministers like yourselves do very little about it. You've just, there's a sort of sense that everyone's a bit stunned by this. No one quite knows what to do.

JAMES PURNELL: Andrew what do you mean do very little about it? You know we're trying to launch tomorrow a radical programme on welfare reform which is exactly the right thing to do. The right thing to do is to focus on policy, win the war for radicalism, for what is the right future for this country and that is exactly the issue that will be there at the next election.

ANDREW MARR: So what do you say to all those Labour voters or ex Labour voters who've sort of given up, who thinks it's all over and all of those Labour MPs and sometimes ministers who also have more or less given up when it comes to the next election?

JAMES PURNELL: I say people should pick themselves up off the floor, they should come up with the right policies and they should campaign on them.

And I profoundly believe that Britain is a better country today than it was eleven years ago. The thing that we need to convince people of is we have the right approach to make it better for the next ten years. Now I think that's the, the test which the Conservatives have failed. You know it's not clear what their policy is for the next few years.

They, they have a good diagnosis but they have no answer. And that is going to be the contrast at the next election. I think they're still very confused about where they want to go. We need to convince people we have the right approach for the next ten years.

ANDREW MARR: And are you absolutely sure you've got the right leader for the next ten years or the next few years?

JAMES PURNELL: Yes absolutely. Gordon Brown is a, an excellent leader. He has got exactly the right characteristics for what are tough economic times. Leaders all around the world are having you know, difficulties because of that.

That's absolutely clear. What we want to do is put forward the right programme for the next ten years and that's exactly what Gordon Brown is doing and that's exactly what we've been doing with this welfare reform proposal.

ANDREW MARR: And does it matter therefore if Labour lose the, the Glasgow by-election? That's not a moment of, of truth or despair or whatever for Gordon Brown?

JAMES PURNELL: No not at all. The key thing is we have a fantastic campaign which has been brilliantly organised. Margaret Curran our candidate would be a great fighter for the East End of Glasgow and that's what we're going to be saying for the last few days of the election campaign.

ANDREW MARR: All right. James Purnell thank you very much indeed for coming in.



Please note "The Andrew Marr Show" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

NB: This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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