This article was written by Polly Toynbee, for The Guardian on Tuesday 12th August 2014 05.00 UTC
Politicians may deal in terminological inexactitudes, but I can’t think of many black-is-white, war-is-peace practitioners as downright deceptive as Iain Duncan Smith.
Originally, the question was whether to put it down to simple stupidity, as he didn’t understand that the numbers he promised were impossible. Yesterday, poring over his big speech on welfare reform, a few of the more polite experts spoke of his “magical thinking”. But his motives and state of mind hardly matter to the millions affected by his evidence-free, faith-based policy-making.
The man does have indefatigable self-confidence: “We are fixing society,” he says. The Times, Sun, Mail and Telegraph happily swallowed it whole, rather than explore the thickets of his benefit system. His great claim is that his reforms have been the key driver in getting people back to work.
Let’s start with where he’s right: this recession has been unlike any other, as employment fell by far less and now grows by far more than economists can explain. Fraser Nelson, the Spectator editor, eagerly backed the view that IDS’s big stick has been the “game-changer”.
But Jonathan Portes, head of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, formerly Treasury and a Department for Work and Pensions economist, makes mincemeat of the claim. Comparing numbers with charts over time, he concludes: “The idea that those on JSA are getting a job more quickly than before the recession, let alone that welfare reform has anything to do with it, has no support in the data.”
When it comes to the sick on employment and support allowance, numbers fell steadily from 2004, rose a bit in the recession and were starting to fall on trend. But now they’re rising again. Why? Portes says it’s “the result of the administrative chaos surrounding the Atos contract for the work capability assessment”.
Duncan Smith takes credit for one of Labour’s successes: Labour raised the number of single mothers into work from 46% to 58%. He says it’s higher than ever now, which is true – but only up by 2 percentage points in his time. He hurls accusations at Labour’s welfare bill: welfare expert Declan Gaffney says Labour cut the bill and kept it stable as a proportion of GDP – until the crash. It peaked in 2012 on IDS’s watch.
His universal credit was due this April to cover a million people: so far it covers just 16,000 easy households with no children, writing off £130m in failed IT. But you would never guess when IDS says it “completes the cultural shift”. Rolling many benefits into one doesn’t magically simplify them: the online form, 50 pages long, still needs to record every changing detail of every member of the household in real time.
Better incentives? Donald Hirsch, economist for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, finds that on universal credit, families who work full-time can easily end up with less than if they worked part-time. Worse, it traps mothers at home: if one partner works, the second gains virtually nothing by taking a job. Nor does Duncan Smith say that 65p is cut from every extra pound earned. Raising income tax thresholds for the low-paid hardly applies to those on universal credit: most of the gain is lost as their benefit is cut back.
There are traps, hazards both moral and practical, in any benefit system. These deserve debate – but IDS prefers falsifications of reality. The bedroom tax, he says, is imperative. He doesn’t say that only 4% or 5% of people have moved as a result, the rest taking a huge hit, sending them to loan sharks and food banks. Nor does he tell of the doubling, by next year, of the number of working people drawing housing benefit, due to soaring rents and falling pay.
Take the disaster of his 20% cut and transfer of disability living allowance into personal independence payments (PIPs). Forced to delay existing cases to after the election, that’s a nasty gift of 3.6 million assessments for his successor. But worse, people applying now are held in a long backlog, often very sick.
Macmillan Cancer Support, campaigning hard about waits of over six months for benefits rulings, mentions one typical case: a 25-year-old father with advanced cancer waiting for PIP has almost no money. His wife has had to work while he cares for their baby. Without his PIP, he waits for carer’s allowance, severe disability premium, escape from the bedroom tax, bus pass, taxi cards to get to hospital and heating grant. Latest figures show only 24% of claims have been processed; the rest wait, and some claimants die waiting.
“There is a lot of misleading talk about sanctions,” Duncan Smith says. Indeed there is, by him. Any benefit system has to prevent fraud or idleness, but he must know how his Jobcentre Plus offices have become sanction factories, his staff under unbearable pressure to cut people off. Research by Inclusion finds an unprecedented gap between the number of unemployed and those drawing JSA – invisible people living on thin air.
Last week the Guardian reported the tragic death of a diabetic former soldier, sanctioned into starvation. Go to any food bank and you’ll find heartbreaking cases. Every week, my inbox tells of people struck off unjustly – the latest, Jim, was sent on a course by the jobcentre then struck off for not signing on, as if he could be in two places at once.
Tricks abound as staff are forced to hit targets called “spinning plates”. With George Osborne taking another £12bn cuts after 2015, it’s possible Duncan Smith doesn’t know the abominations he oversees.
> Oh, I’m sure he does know, and probably revels in it. After all, he kept his job in the recent reshuffle despite everybody knowing he is incompetent – he probably now believes he can do anything, without personal consequences.
Source – Welfare News Service, 12 Aug 2014
I was reading A Gay Mentalist’s blog a little while ago, and a term he used to describe the middle classes struck me. He called them ‘feral’. It’s not a word that usually applied to the upper ranks of society. Usually it’s given to the underclass and their children, the type of people, leading bleak lives of deprivation and pointless moral squalor. The type of people with no jobs, and no self-respect, whose chief and often only activities seem to be drunkenness, drug dealing, violence and sexual promiscuity. The type of people who provide the raw fodder for Jeremy Kyle, as they slouch onto his show to present their sordid tales of domestic abuse and accuse each other of stealing each other’s partners.
It does, however, also perfectly describe the attitude of the middle classes, and particularly the hysterical ranting of the middle market tabloids and the vicious, punitive attitude…
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UKIP are making a determined bid for North East votes, as you’ll know if you’ve been following posts on UT&W in the past week or two. Before you’re swayed, read this…
On Friday I reblogged a piece from the ever-acute and satirical Tom Pride about how the unemployed worker in UKIP’s election poster was actually an Irish actor. This was a source of highly ironic amusement, as well as a comment on the double standards used by UKIP and some of the other parties, when they start banging on the nationalist and anti-immigration issues. On the same evening you could also see a clip on the BBC’s long-running satirical quiz, Have I Got News For You, UKIP’s Fuehrer, Nigel Farage, being given a thorough grilling by the Beeb’s Nick Robinson. Why, asked Robinson, if immigration was so bad and a threat to British jobs, did Farage employ his wife, who was German, as his secretary? Because, said il Duce, there were no English people, who could do the job, thus torpedoing much of his anti-immigration arguments. It also brought…
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AN MP who came under fire for labelling football fans “scumbag hooligans” on Twitter has defended his comments.
Thousands of Sunderland fans gathered in Covent Garden last night ahead of Sunday’s Capital One Cup final clash.
Tory MP Robert Halfon sparked fury when he posted a picture of litter in the streets on Twitter and wrote: “Went to London for dinner. Wish I hadn’t. Scumbag football hooligans turn Covent Garden into a disgusting Cesspit.”
The member for Harlow in Essex soon found himself at the centre of an online firestorm and facing criticism from his own party.
Sunderland Conservative councillor Lee Martin wrote: “Nice to see @halfon4harlowMP has labelled the 5000 Sunderland fans in Covent Garden last night scumbags and hooligans. Idiot.”
But Mr Halfon denied his attack has been aimed exclusively at Sunderland fans.
“My tweet was to do specifically with the state of the area I saw and walked on, which was much broken glass and huge amounts of dropped litter in the roads. Why is it wrong of me to point that out?
“I asked a police officer who told me that there were six clubs in the area. In no way was I, or did I, identify one club over another, in fact I was not sure who had actually done it other than it was people associated with football.
“I specifically did not attack fans from any club but was referring only to those who had left the broken glass. It is wrong to say I have mentioned or described any fan’s from any club in the manner described.
“I also make clear the distinction between genuine fans of which there are many, and have every right to enjoy themselves, and hooligans who throw and smash glass all over the road. As a football fan myself I have huge admiration for most British clubs.
“That was the context of my tweet, which inevitably has been twisted or misunderstood as attacking a particular group of fans, or particular club, which was far from the case.”
Other Twitter users questioned whether Mr Halfon would have been similarly critical of the mess left behind after other events.
The Times football writer Tony Barrett posed a picture of the debris left after New Year’s Eve celebrations, with the question: “London after New Years Eve – “scumbag New Year revellers” or just not enough bins?”
And freelance writer Daniel Storey posted a link to details of the clean-up operation after the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, with the comment: “30 tonnes of rubbish on streets after diamond jubilee. Scumbag jubilee hooligans?”
Source – Sunderland Echo, 03 Mar 2014