Labour pledge to replace DWP on day one of new government ‘impossible’

IfG analysis finds that main parties’ manifesto pledges risk creating uncertainty and distraction

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By Jonathan Owen

02 Dec 2019

Labour cannot deliver on its pledge to scrap the Department for Work and Pensions overnight, according to an Institute for Government analysis of election pledges to restructure the machinery of government.

While the Conservatives have not made any proposals to change departments, or create new ones, other parties are proposing radical changes.

In Labour’s case, these include creating a Department for Housing, transforming the Government Equalities Office into a Department for Women and Equalities, replacing DWP with a Department for Social Security, and creating a Ministry for Employment Rights.


The Liberal Democrats want to create a Department for Climate Change and Sustainability, move many of the Home Office’s responsibilities to other departments and appoint a chief sustainability secretary in the Treasury.

While the Green Party has proposed a Department for the Green New Deal, and splitting the Home Office into ministries for sanctuary and the interior.

Tim Durrant, associate director at the IfG, has examined the promises of the main parties to restructure government.

“Deciding on a name for a new department is the easy part. Each party needs to think through exactly what their proposed new departments would do,” he said.

“Labour’s pledge to replace DWP “on day one” with DSS will be impossible. DWP is the largest government department, both in terms of staff and budget, and has a presence across the entire country.

"Rebranding its entire estate would be a big project alone, but Labour also wants to “completely change the culture” of the department, and scrap its flagship policy, Universal Credit. Such a huge amount of change will take time and effort; that, and not changing the department’s name, should be the focus of Labour’s plans."

He argued that while creating a new government department to deal with a high-priority issue may appear to be a decisive move, the main parties’ manifesto pledges risk creating uncertainty and distraction.

Abolishing government departments and creating new ones is fraught with difficulty, and parties need to think before they act in their threats to replace government departments if they come to power, he said. The analysis echoes concerns outlined in a report by IfG into the cost of machinery of government changes earlier this month. This revealed that the average cost of setting up a new government department can be up to £34m and includes the impact of lost productivity as staff adjust to the new organisation.

There is one glaring omission from all of the parties’ plans for new departments: the future of the Department for Exiting the EU, said Durrant

Uncertainty over the long-term future of a department that was created to oversee the UK’s Brexit negotiations means that parties should plan now what they would do with DExEU “rather than make a potentially confusing snap judgement at a later date.”

He commented: “If the parties are serious about making changes to the structure of government departments, then they should first think through the questions that are raised by their restructuring plans.

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