Job Centre UK
Rachel Reeves is the latest UK politician to adopt Bill Clinton's "tough love" welfare reform gimmick Reuters

Bill Clinton and his band of New Democrats change the face of welfare reform in Western World in the 1990s. The Rhodes Scholar, a prominent proponent of "Third Way" politics, forced the unemployed in the US to find work when his administration's Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act was signed in 1996.

The move, among other things, meant the world's largest economy's jobless would be limited to five years of federal unemployment benefits. And how did Clinton sum the policy up? You've guessed it – "tough love". Rachel Reeves is the latest UK politician to adopt Bill Clinton's "tough love" gimmick.

The Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary said unemployed people in the UK would lose their jobless benefit if they failed a "basic skills test" under a Labour government. She explained to attendees at the left-leaning think tank IPPR that the policy would address the UK's troubling skills gap and that the move would also help tackle NEETs. Otherwise known as unfortunate youngsters who are not in education, employment or training.

Britain certainly has a youth unemployment problem. Currently there are a staggering 941,000 young people out of work. That figure includes those who are still looking for a job. What about those who have given up, are humiliated and have lost confidence in the country's social security system? Well, the Office for National Statistics says Britain has 2.62 million economically inactive 16 to 24 year olds.

Reeves' move, then, should be welcomed. We need more ideas to help Britain's "lost generation" break into the labour market. The policy also comes amid an ongoing saga over at the Department for Work and Pensions. The government's flagship welfare reform, Universal Credit, has been hit by set back after set back. The system, which is meant to replace six existing benefits with a single monthly payment, has been savaged by the Public Accounts Committee.

Lost Opportunity

The cross-party group of MPs blasted the scheme for having "alarmingly weak" management and they argued that Universal Credit's implementation has been "extraordinarily poor". You could argue that the MPs are being a bit soft on the DWP. They did, after all, claim that £140m worth of IT assets from the scheme will have to be written off.

Iain Duncan Smith, a failed Tory leader reborn as the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions thanks to the "Lazarus Pit" properties of his Centre for Social Justice think tank, is undoubtedly back on the ropes. But Reeves' policy isn't the blow to finish him off. It's not radical welfare reform. In fact, the Labour MP's "tough love" isn't "tough" or "radical" at all.

If Labour wanted to shake things up, they should concentrate their fire power on the job centre. It used to be the case you could go bi-weekly to one of these shrines of public sector bureaucracy. You hand in your little blue book (personal work plan) of jobs you've applied for (at least six every fortnight depending on your advisor) and explain in the documentation how you've applied for the vacancies (email, in person etc). A very brief conversation with the assistant, a flick through the blue book, and you're off. That's your Job Seekers Allowance sorted.

If you've ever visited a job centre, you know how quickly people rush in and out of these places. I'm pretty sure an Argos order and buy request takes longer. This is the real problem with the UK's welfare system. All claimants – or "customers" as they are now coldly known – are presumed to have knightly motivations. But what happens if they don't?

Labour so far haven't provided a solution to this issue. Reeves' policy, which is really an attempt to outflank the Tories and Ukip from the right ahead of the European Parliamentary Elections, is just another "soft love" move.