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Dialogue around reforms 'like being expected to shake hands with mugger' says CIPD's chief economist

A senior economist yesterday condemned the language being used to justify welfare reforms and public sector cutbacks, comparing the atmosphere as being like being expected to shake hands with a mugger.

Speaking at his organisation’s conference in Manchester, the CIPD, chief economist John Philpott said the language being used was counterproductive.

"The thing that interests me about all of these issues is the political narrative that underlines it," he said.

"Engagement’s got to come first, and if your approach is to say ‘we’re coming for your jobs. We’re coming for your pay. We’re coming for your pensions and you’re a bunch of timewasters who are overpaid and underproductive,’ this isn’t a very good way of approaching the engagement agenda.

Philpott spoke after the Minister for Employment, Chris Grayling, laid out the Government’s reasons for reform.

"If people were to express the issues in the language that Chris has then you get more or less universal buy in," Philpott said. "The problem you get when talk about welfare reform that still has a lot of references to the work-shy, scroungers which isn’t the picture that Chris is depicting.

"Within the area of public sector reform there are many managers on the ground that will take a very positive and collaborative approach, but you’re still going to get, if not ministers, then politicians, talking from time to time about the ‘enemy within’ and in that context its very difficult to have an appropriate engagement strategy.

"It’s akin to being mugged by someone and the mugger expecting you to shake your hand at the end of it. What we need is that conciliatory tone that you’ve expressed there."

Grayling denied that he had ever used such language, pointing the finger instead at the media: "I cannot avoid tabloid newspaper headlines. The language we use all about helping people overcome barriers."

Philpot was addressing the closing session of the conference, which was chaired by Channel 4’s Krishnan Guru-Murthy. Philpot and Grayling were joined by the BBC’s director of people, Lucy Adams, and Unite’s Assistant General Secretary, Gail Cartmail.