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Labour has failed to make welfare work

November 8, 2009

column pictureThis year more than ever before I have understood that Remembrance Sunday is not just about the fallen from the two World Wars…

I think it is because so many Service personnel have lost their lives in Afghanistan over the last few months that this fact has been drummed into my (and perhaps our national) consciousness.

This column is not the right place in which to make political points about the adequacy of the equipment that our troops have been given. However it feels reasonable to make points here about the treatment by the State of those injured in combat, and more widely, about the current state of our welfare system.

It is clear from the comment thread on my Conservative counterpart’s column this week, that the way we, as a country, treat our injured soldiers, is a matter that local people (and the country at large) are concerned about – and rightly so.

Royal British Legion 09At the Lib Dem Party Conference in September I met with Royal British Legion representatives, and ‘pledged to do my bit’ for service personnel and their families.

The soldiers injured in Afghanistan are just as much our veterans as the generations that have gone before them – those who served in the Falklands, Korea, two World Wars. There will be other conflicts too…

In my daily work I see local people’s difficulties with our benefits system. Only the other day I was supporting someone to get an emergency giro because the relevant agency had failed to pay on time. This person had had no money for a couple of days by this point, and the number that he was required to dial is expensive to call on a mobile phone, low on credit…

I mention this because it is the kind of detail that needs to be right if people are to be helped properly – people who inevitably are trying to get their lives back together – who want to get themselves back on track.

Happily, my colleague and I were able to lend the person in question one of our phones. But there was an incredibly long wait to get through.

The person was angry and humiliated. This person does not want to be dependent on the State; they are not used to it, and find it distressing.

This person has a history of work, and requires a bit of a helping hand in a time of need. It should be so simple…

But the system is not simple. It has not been responsive, or flexible enough to help many people to find or get back in to the work that they are interested in, nor has it been supported by effective job creation schemes.

I worry for our young veterans. I worry if this is the system that they will have to use as they plan to, and eventually do, re-enter the job market.

Liberal Democrats are committed to changing this over-complicated and hugely frustrating system – whatever it takes.

Our ‘Pocket Guide to Policy’ – available via this link – is a really user-friendly guide to Liberal Democrat approaches to benefits, pensions and other important policy areas.

It is on our newly updated website: www.libdems.org.uk

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