by GK Strategy 19th August, 2015

Social Justice Back on the Agenda at Number 10

The appointment of Christian Guy as David Cameron’s special adviser on welfare reform and opportunity is merely the latest move in Downing Street’s shift towards a more positive policy agenda, centred on social justice and poverty reduction.

Guy has been a stellar performer as director of the Centre for Social Justice – alongside the Centre for Policy Studies, arguably the ascendant Conservative-leaning policy think tank in the current political environment. It helps, of course, that its founder is Iain Duncan Smith, who remains a Secretary of State, but this move is indication enough that the Prime Minister himself is a fan of the CSJ.

One of the first items to cross the new hire’s desk will be the next phase of the Work Programme. Current contracted provision for the long-term unemployed mostly ends between 2015 and 2017, and implementation of the successor scheme will be one of the key features of this government’s agenda. Guy has a long-held interest in social investment and is likely to be a strong advocate for risk-sharing commissioning models. He may well bang the drum for the expansion of innovations such as Social Impact Bonds, attempting to move the social investment market from “pilot to general practice”, as he wrote in 2014.

There’s also a possibility that there will be a more joined-up approach to welfare under Guy’s influence. He has often written about the connections between welfare dependency, education, and housing.

The appointment is the latest in a series of three recent hires that indicate a restless desire on the part of David Cameron and George Osborne to move beyond the rather dry economic platform on which they won the election. Along with Guy, Rachel Wolf and Camilla Cavendish have recently joined the Policy Unit: all three are strong characters with a track record of actually getting things done.

It’s notable that this shift – from blue-sky thinking to hard-edged delivery – follows a Budget in which George Osborne parked his tanks on Labour’s lawn with the announcement of a “national living wage”. The temptation for the Conservatives, looking on as Labour veers to the hard left, is sure to mirror them by appeasing their right-wing. But the smarter move is to lean into the centre ground. As long as the Tories are regarded as the only sensible option by voters in England, they will lock out Labour for the foreseeable future.

It increasingly appears that David Cameron wants his final legacy to be a confirmation of the belief his party holds dear: that conservatism, far from being the enemy of social justice, is the only engine by which fairness and freedom can be delivered.

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