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Government adviser says welfare reform will ‘shrink the Big Society’

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Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms have come in for heavy criticism from one of the closest advisers to decentralisation minister Greg Clark.

Mr Duncan Smith had unleashed an “extreme centralisation” that runs against the grain of government’s stated commitment to localism and will “shrink” the Big Society, Francis Davis, a fellow with the Young Foundation and Mr Clark’s key policy adviser, claimed.

Writing in the Guardian newspaper, Mr Davis said the welfare secretary’s move to take central control of housing benefit, tax credits and other social security payments posed a “serious problem” for the government.

He said Mr Duncan Smith’s welfare reform white paper “will unleash a new drive to centrism” with the “huge” Department for Work & Pensions controlling benefits “inflexibly from the centre”.

“Just as [Greg] Clark and [cabinet minister] Francis Maude are driving power, resources, opportunity and civic action to the most local level, Iain Duncan Smith has set off in the opposite direction,” he said.

He said the “intense centralisation” of a flat-rate benefit cap of £500 per household proposed by Mr Duncan Smith, would in the more expensive south become “a tax on the poor who survive on the margins of the wealthy south and in Conservative heartlands”.

“What is worse is that the DWP is simultaneously outsourcing its work programmes in contracts which are so large that they in effect shut out the charitable and civic sectors from this part of the war on need and public sector reform,” he added.

He said: “Extreme centralisation and transferring a public monopoly of work provision to private one will only stifle the most energetic at the outset, and in the process shrink the ‘big society’”.

As revealed in LGC in September, Mr Duncan Smith scrapped DWP’s flagship localism pledge, which committed the department to a three stage process of devolution that would hand more control over employment programmes to local authorities. Town halls were to have had “greater flexibility and discretion to tailor services to meet local needs,” under the committment.

For more on the Big Society and the government’s welfare reform see chief reporter Allister Hayman’s blog here.

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