Abolish the DWP - a failure to understand how Whitehall works

The think tank, Demos, has released a report recommending the abolishing of the Department for Work and Pensions - so the Observer says. The report itself seems a little more modest, suggesting that certain functions be moved elsewhere in Whitehall. It is, sadly, true that it does not suggest entirely closing down some function of government - as we know, the only way to actually reform anything given institutional inertia.

But even the Observer’s reading, close it all down having transferred the functions, doesn’t work, as doesn’t the report’s more modest of transferring some of those functions. For both ideas are missing how such transfers are done in practice.

The same people sit in the same offices doing the same stuff. There’s just a different departmental nameplate outside and up at the airy height of Cabinet anoxia there’s a different person responsible for their errors. That’s how the civil service does these things.

This is exactly why reform of anything civil service is so difficult. We don’t even get shuffled deckchairs nor the band reading from different sheet music, just a different baton waver influencing near nothing.

The actual complaint itself is that the DWP is pretty good at dealing with people unemployed because they can’t find a job, pretty bad at dealing with people unemployed because they’re incapable of a job. We agree it probably is but only because that second is the rather harder task. Quite probably one that no government organisational system will ever be able to deal with.