In 1986, Mead’s big idea was to push welfare recipients into jobs – an approach that came to be known as “workfare”. Unlike those on the left who wanted to change capitalism, Mead wanted to change the poor. The academic argued that disorder stemming from the actions of the inner-city poor, rather than a lack of opportunity, lay at the collapse of their communities. What was needed, he argued, was to “enforce values that had broken down” with an expensive, intrusive bureaucracy that “helped and hassled” people back to work
Mead’s solutions are controversial – being simultaneously draconian and costly. More than 2.5 million people in Britain on disability benefits, he says, is “way too high” and claimants must be forced into an “activity”. There should be benefit cuts to drastically shake out those claiming fraudulently, says Mead. “People say they want to work but they are not actually working.”
If I were advising him [Frank Field] on his review, I would suggest he start by looking at what George Bush enacted in his last days in office as president of the United States. He signed into law an extension of unemployment benefits. Despite his political instincts for “tough love” of the poor, and despite the US’s precarious financial position, full unemployment benefits were extended by another seven weeks across the country and by as much as 20 weeks in those states where unemployment rates were highest. When unemployment is high and rising, you raise benefits because it is clear there are many more people looking for work than there are jobs. Even Bush got this.
Barack Obama went further and significantly raised taxes on the rich to pay for increased benefits for what Americans call “struggling Americans”, “Americans with disabilities”, “American children” and “elderly Americans”, to remind themselves that others are like them.