5 July 2017

Philippa Stroud on family breakdown, welfare reform and Brexit


On the surface, Baroness Stroud has the perfect Westminster CV. She helped found one think tank, the Centre for Social Justice, and is now running another, the Legatum Institute. In between, she worked as special adviser to Iain Duncan Smith, helping to devise and implement his welfare reforms.

Yet as our conversation in the latest episode of Free Exchange makes clear, her career is rather more interesting – and rather more extraordinary. She entered politics after a lifetime of working with the homeless and destitute, slowly working out what the root causes of family breakdown were and then attempting to implement those insights on a national level.

You can listen to the full interview here. Despite the occasional interference from an awkwardly placed phone, it really is worth your while.

Philippa Stroud on… working with addicts in Hong Kong (5 mins)

“If you are an addict in the UK, and you go through a drug rehab centre, and you fall out of it or don’t succeed going through it, you may get one other chance, but you won’t get many other opportunities. What [my mentor] was doing was saying was that if this takes 12 times, 15 times, we are committed to seeing you go on your journey through this. You often find with addiction: people don’t make it the first time. But each time they come back in, they make another choice, and they go a little bit further.”

Philippa Stroud on… family breakdown (11 mins)

“One day I was coming down to speak to the Conservative Party conference – I wasn’t a Conservative Party member then – about the voluntary sector, and I thought I’d better check that I was right about what was driving [addiction] before I took to the platform. I asked each of my residents, in private, the question: ‘If there was something that didn’t happen in your life, that had meant that you wouldn’t end up in a place like this, what would it have been?’ And they all answered: ‘It started when my father walked out’ or ‘when my stepfather walked in’.

“The disintegration of the family, and the violence in some of these families, and the abuse in some of these families, was such a theme running through what we were doing, but was not being talked about in national politics. Governments were very happy to pay money to these people, but what they really wanted was strong, stable families.”

Philippa Stroud on… changing the Conservative Party (16 mins 30)

“When we first launched the Centre for Social Justice, Tim [Montgomerie] did a picture of a typewriter which only had three keys – Europe, immigration and tax. The vision of the CSJ was to restore all the others – family, employment, managing our personal finances, modern-day slavery. It was a hugely exciting agenda to be part of. ‘Hug a hoodie’ was actually from a day conference the CSJ hosted to bring the players in the early intervention space together. We actually titled it ‘Thugs: Beyond Redemption?’, which sounds awful now…”

Philippa Stroud on… modern slavery (20 mins 30)

“Once the [CSJ] report was published, everybody thought it was completely self-evident that you would do it. But because there was such a packed legislative programme, it got stuck in No 10. I remember conversations with advisers where I was told that it wasn’t a priority, and I wrote an email saying why I thought it was – why British families didn’t want our progress as a nation made on the backs of slavery.

“They said, if you can find a Secretary of State who will take the legislation through, you can do it. I thought, should I go to William Hague, who’d written a William Wilberforce book, or Theresa May, because it was obviously on her patch. I knew Fiona Cunningham – now Hill – and she said ‘We need to be in this space, and Theresa will definitely want to do this.’ And we met and it was just like an open door.”

Philippa Stroud on… battles with the Treasury (32 mins)

“When Iain went back in [after the 2015 election], I knew that he was going to have to take £12 billion out of welfare. I hadn’t thought that I would go back in with him, but… I thought, that’s a really, really difficult task. Do I want to leave it to somebody who doesn’t know the welfare budget inside out, and who will do it brutally, or do I want it to be done as carefully as possible?

“They were hugely difficult decisions to make, and behind the scenes I expended a huge amount of energy explaining to people the consequences of doing them, and in fact a good proportion of them never happened.

“I actually didn’t believe it was possible to take that amount out only from working-age [benefits]… As the election went on, more and more was being taken off the table, more and more promises were being made. So what was difficult but possible when Osborne first announced it became almost almost impossible, because so many areas of the welfare budget had been taken off the table. Which is why when I came out of government, I spoke and wrote publicly about the fact that the tax credit cuts should not go ahead.”

Philippa Stroud on… the triple lock (35 mins)

“I always thought, why are we protecting universal benefits for people who go right up the income stream? I genuinely believe there should be a very honest conversation, almost a cross-party commission, on welfare. Because Labour are known to protect the benefits of the poorest, and rightly so, and Conservatives are known for protecting the universal benefits. But actually, we should be asking what is a 21st-century welfare system required to do, and what should be the best way of constructing it? And it shouldn’t be providing an income for people who have a decent income.”

Philippa Stroud on… her mission with the Legatum Institute (39 mins)

“Even when you look at what’s going on in Brexit, you have the 52 per cent of people voted for this – and the reason why they did that was because of job insecurity, lack of access to housing, education challenges, and health challenges. And some of these things are very much the space I’ve been in for a very long time.”

Philippa Stroud on… why religion matters (45 mins 30)

“Faith is running through the heart of society. It does. If you push it to the sides, that’s when you get extremism. You need faith running through the warp and weft of society, because that’s when it’s healthy.”

You can listen to the full interview here:

Or catch up with our recent interviews with Frank FieldNick CohenDaniel HannanPeter Oborne and Lord Lawson.

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Robert Colvile is Editor of CapX