The Corner

British Conservatives Are Showing Republicans How to Become the Party of Work

Rich Lowry and Reihan Salam published an important piece earlier this year in National Review entitled “The Party of Work.” They pointed out that a serious work focus requires the GOP to look at ways that the entitlement-welfare state discourages work. For that, there’s no place better in the world to look than merry old England.

The Conservative coalition government has been blessed since 2010 to have Ian Duncan Smith (affectionately known as IDS) as its Minister for Work and Pensions. Just the title alone sends the message: Under IDS, the focus of government assistance is work, not welfare. He has shepherded many dramatic changes to the U.K.’s entitlement-benefit scheme, including reforms to Housing Benefit (checks that go millions of Britons well above the poverty line), unemployment (known as ”Jobseeker’s Allowance”), and disability insurance (known as “Incapacity Benefit”). He is also implementing a cap on the total amount that benefit recipients can receive under a host of programs and is spearheading a complete reorganization of many programs into a single payment called the Uniform Credit. In short, it’s the most comprehensive conservative reinvention of the guts of the British welfare state since the beast came into existence.

IDS gave a speech recently outlining what’s already been achieved. To the surprise of the Left, but to no one who reads the Corner, many people who formerly lived on the dole are now entering the labor force. That is helping Britain come out of a multi-year recession, but it’s also helping to stem the demand for low-skilled immigrants from the EU. On that score, IDS notes that while during the previous Labor government over half of increased employment was filled by foreign nationals, in the last year since his reforms have started to take hold that figure is down to one-quarter. New jobs in Britain, for Britons. What a concept!

Conservatives are quick to call for private-sector-led growth, but we too often overlook the hard work that’s needed to make growth attractive to low-skilled people for whom the government safety net is a alluring temptation. Help for those who need it, in the manner that they need it, has long been a staple of conservative domestic policy. Putting that into practice requires a lot of hard, detailed work. Kudos to IDS and the Tories for doing that, and thereby giving their American cousins a ready made place to look for good ideas.

— Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center 

Henry Olsen — Mr. Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, an editor at, and the author of The Working Class Republican: Ronald Reagan and the Return of Blue-Collar Conservatism.

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