PM works with parody

You couldn’t make it up: on the day the Tory / LibDem coalition are rolling out another round of welfare cuts, David Cameron announces he’s working with someone who doesn’t exist except on the Internet. (No, not Michael Green MP.)

David Cameron's tweet about working with IDS_MP

Iain Duncan Smith doesn’t have a Twitter account. (There are a lot of parody accounts, but not one with the magic blue tick.)

What the intern who tweets for the Prime Minister used was this:

IDS_MP parody account

Now, pretty obviously what happened is that someone – let’s spare David Cameron’s blushes and assume that was an unpaid Tory intern – was tweeting using Tweetdeck, didn’t know that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions doesn’t have a Twitter account, and just assumed that @IDS_MP was the real thing without checking the timeline, which includes such recent tweets as:

David Cameron goes bright red in the face and shouts a lot when he’s angry. Wonder who he’s blaming Monday morning for Number 10 being on such bad terms with DWP that no one there knew Iain Duncan Smith is Twitterless? (The Tory party don’t seem to have much understanding of Twitter accounts.)

This “make work pay” policy David Cameron refers to is the benefits cap.

The cap ensures that families on a low income claiming high levels of housing benefits are evicted from private accommodation and forced to turn to their local councils for support. This will primarily affect low-income families with three or more children living in Greater London/SE England: Shelter estimates that in 2013 about 5,500 families will be made homeless as a result of the cap: Eric Pickles, the Communities and Local government Secretary, sent an estimate to David Cameron over two years ago that the total figure was likely to be about 20,000 additional homeless families as a direct result of the cap.

The cap will continue to apply while the evicted families are placed in temporary accommodation by their local council.

Even when a homeless family is placed in temporary accommodation by a local authority, they are expected to pay towards their housing costs [Shelter, England] Sensibly, regulations therefore require that any housing offered to homeless families must be affordable [PDF].

This broadly means that families ‘can afford the housing costs without being deprived of basic essentials such as food, clothing, heating, transport and other essentials’. Non-housing benefit income (for example from income support or child tax credits) is set at a level designed to just about cover these costs. Local authorities cannot therefore expect families to subsidise the type of shortfalls the cap will create using non housing benefit income.

In order to find ‘affordable’ temporary accommodation, local authorities will have to place homeless families in the very cheapest areas. No accommodation will be affordable for larger families who stand to lose nearly all or all of their housing benefit, putting local authorities under financial strain as they struggle to meet the gap. Ministers have said that the overstretched and oft-cited Discretionary Housing Payments budget should come into play at this point.

The majority of new Housing Benefit claimants are in work. A policy that requires their local authority to rehome them in “affordable temporary accommodation” possibly hundreds of miles away, has been estimated officially to push about 100,000 children below the poverty line and break up families, disrupt education, and of course won’t save any money: in fact as Eric Pickle’s office wrote to David Cameron’s office two years ago:

Firstly we are concerned that the savings from this measure, currently estimated ay £270m savings p.a from 2014-2015 does not take account of the additional costs to local authorities (through homelessness and temporary accommodation). In fact we think it is likely that the policy as it stands will generate a net cost. In addition Local Authorities will have to calculate and administer reduced Housing Benefit to keep within the cap and this will mean both demands on resource and difficult handling locally.

The Discretionary Housing Payments budget is also being called upon to cover the shortfall caused by the bedroom tax.

You’d almost have to be a parody account on Twitter to think that any of this is a good idea.

Iain Duncan Smith on the bedroom tax:

  • “It is proving a ­success… finally shining a light on the failure of the last government to sort out the mess in social housing.”

Iain Duncan Smith on the benefits cap:

  • “This is both about saving money and, more particularly, about changing a culture that had left families, particularly large families, finding it easy and a reality for their lives to stay out of work on taxpayers’ benefits.”

    Mr Duncan Smith said the “greatest effect” of the benefits cap would occur within London and the South East. [This, unlike his claim that 8,000 people had found work as a result of the benefits cap threat, is actually true: the majority of families made homeless will be in this high-rent area.]

    “The key principle behind this all over the country is that those who work, those who are trying to do the best in their households, do not see others who are down the road, who are on benefits, on welfare, actually getting more than they do.”

Of course no family with adults in work is ever as badly off as a family out of work. But what does Iain Duncan Smith care for the facts?

Guardian quiz: Can you tell the difference between the real IDS and his Twitter imitator? (I scored 11 out of 12. Alarming.)

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