Iain Duncan Smith has resigned. The cuts to disability benefits which he approved are to be reversed++.
After 2138 days in office, after being directly implicated in more than 80 suicides, after more than 2380 people had died though Iain Duncan Smith’s system found them “fit for work”, while children go hungry and cold because of Iain Duncan Smith’s benefit sanctions on lone parents, after a jump in the death rate for the elderly and infirm unprecedented since World War II, Iain Duncan Smith has finally resigned – claiming at length that he did so because the new disability cuts brought in by Wednesday’s budget were “indefensible”.
That is, while Iain Duncan Smith was quite willing to defend cutting benefits to disabled people (and blame Labour for “making” them do it as IDS is under the impression that Labour spending caused the 2008 global bank crash), still, he has noticed that a budget that delivered so much to higher earners and that cut the benefits to disabled people by £30 a week, is rather open to criticism.
And this is, IDS thinks, a splendid excuse for resigning. Perhaps even make him look like a principled senior statesman as he embarks on his campaign to remove the UK from the European Union.
That after nearly six years in office Iain Duncan Smith should suppose anyone would be fooled by this “principled” resignation over a cut targeting disabled people, says a lot about his arrogance, ignorance, and egotism. After the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had to hold an inquiry to investigate the violations of disabled people’s human rights in the UK as a result of Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms, Iain Duncan Smith declared he was “proud” of what his department had achieved.
In July 2013, Iain Duncan Smith wrote:
This government has embarked on one of the most aggressive programmes of welfare reform Britain has ever seen, and we already have a proud record of achievement. There is no doubt that changes to the welfare state are desperately needed. Our reforms will put an end to people being left on sickness benefits year after year; they will eradicate the trap that has left so many better off on benefits than in work; and they will ensure the benefits bill is sustainable over the longer term.
A year earlier, in June 2012, Julie Carwardine allowed herself to be interviewed about how Iain Duncan Smith’s aggressive programme of welfare reform, of which he was so proud, had led to her attempted suicide in January 2012:
She has been through the appeals system three times, each time winning her right to keep her incapacity benefit. …. weeks after her latest successful appeal in March, a bombshell of a letter arrived on her doormat headed “About your employment and support allowance”. It told her that the length of time she could claim the contributory form of ESA was restricted to one year. “I was devastated. Every time I get another bit of bad news I just feel like I’ve been kicked again. It goes on and on. You constantly feel like you’re being doubted.”
Earlier this week, three days before Iain Duncan Smith resigned, supposedly over the cuts to PIP, he said again that he was “proud” of the welfare reforms, and specifically defended the cuts to PIP, claiming that the changes
to the Government’s Personal Independence Payment scheme (PIP) improved funds for “those who most need it.”
By “those who most need it”, Iain Duncan Smith does not, of course, mean Nicky Clark’s disabled daughter, allowed £57 a week for all her living costs, who needs 24-hour care to keep her safe. Nor did Iain Duncan Smith think that a Rachel Schmitz, qualified as one of those in “most need” of help: rather, she was so little in need of help that he feels she should lose her home as well as her disability benefit.
Under the new system I must wait a further 8 weeks until I am allowed to launch an official appeal. It is called the mandatory reconsideration period. It means the same people will assess the same evidence again and they are allowed to take two months to do so. I am allowed to submit no further evidence nor have any advocate speak on my behalf.
I have been applying for this benefit since Nov 3rd. I asked how I should cover my rent in such a period? I was advised to vacate the one bedroom property I have occupied for five years and be sheltered in homeless accommodation whilst they make their decision. Being legally homeless is the only way to receive social housing within the first 12 months. I have been further advised that a hostel bed will be easier to find for me if I rehome my dog. When their attention was brought to the fact I am bedbound for long periods they suggest a women’s refuge will ‘reduce my chance of being attacked’ and that I ‘get on with’ applying as beds are ‘competitive’.
I don’t believe Iain Duncan Smith resigned over cuts that he publicly and privately supported, no matter how unpopular they proved to be in the context of George Osborne’s spring budget.
I think he whined in his letter about that because it sounded well and fitted his self-image as a man who self-righteously cares for the poor, whether they like it or not.
Behind the scenes, Duncan Smith’s sanctions cause a special kind of hell for jobcentre staff, mostly decent people. A regular “deep throat” correspondent describes the work: “You park your conscience at the door,” he tells me. “Sanctions are applied for anything at all to hit the targets.”
Many claimants don’t know what’s happened until their benefit suddenly stops. Many are semi-literate or have bad English: “It’s very easy to hand someone two sheets of A4 and get them to ‘agree’ to 50 ‘steps’ towards work and then sanction them when they don’t even know what a ‘step’ is. The claim is shut down for two weeks and sanctioned for two weeks, so the person disappears from the figures.”
I think the reason Iain Duncan Smith resigned on 18th March 2016 is Universal Credit.
Easily the worst was Universal Credit, a revolutionary new system for benefits which was intended to give everyone entitled to “income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, income support, child tax credit, working tax credit and housing benefit one single payment in their bank account every month, covering all of the payments listed.
Iain Duncan Smith meant to roll out Universal Credit before the May 2015 election. In September 2013 the National Audit Office published a report which said kindly that there were “early setbacks” but also
the Department for Work and Pensions had “weak control of the programme, and had been unable to assess the value of the systems it spent over £300m to develop”.
Two months later, the Commons Public Accounts Committee said the implementation of universal credit had been “extraordinarily poor”, with much of the £425m expenditure to then likely to be written off.
It said that oversight of the universal credit scheme had been “alarmingly weak”, warning signs were missed, and there was a “fortress culture” among officials.
That “fortress culture” attitude generally stems from one thing: the manager at the top of the pile, in this case Iain Duncan Smith himself, doesn’t like to hear bad news. His subordinates avoid telling him bad news. Problems don’t get dealt with and they get bigger.
As I well know from eight years working in the IT industry, if you are running a major revolutionary change to a huge system – as Iain Duncan Smith was planning to do with Universal Credit – you need to be known to all of your subordinates as the manager who wants to hear about problems immediately, welcomes the bearer of bad news, and provides rewards and praise to people who identify problems and bring them to his notice.
Needless to say, Iain Duncan Smith is not that manager.
He’s a bad-tempered, arrogant, not particularly bright, self-righteous man. He is the last person who should have been put in charge of a project like Universal Credit. His solution to the discovery that his department had acted unlawfully in sanctioning people of their benefits for refusing to do workfare, was to pass a retroactive law making his actions legal at the time they were carried out. (Shamefully, this had pre-Corbyn Labour’s full approval and cooperation.)
Freedom of Information requests for “reports relating to the early stages of Universal Credit” had been in the system since 2012. Iain Duncan Smith had no lawful basis to refuse this request, but he did so anyway. Twice.
On 17th March 2016, the courts ruled that
Iain Duncan Smith has lost his latest attempt to keep potentially damning Universal Credit documents secret.
The next day, Iain Duncan Smith resigned with a trumped-up excuse about objecting to benefit cuts that he himself had approved only a few days earlier and which David Cameron had already decided to reverse.
(David Cameron may, of course, be lying about the decision to reverse the disability-benefits cuts having been made before Iain Duncan Smith resigned, and not a few minutes afterwards: but either way, that’s a very neat bit of backstabbery from the Prime Minister, isn’t it?)
[Update: Bernard Jenkin, MP for Harwich and North Essex and former Shadow Secretary of State for Defence under Iain Duncan Smith’s leadership of the Conservative party, writes in the Guardian to explain that Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation was really truly on a point of principle over the the cuts to disability benefits. Unfortunately for Jenkin’s loyal defence of his former leader, Stephen Bush, editor of The Staggers, notes in passing that the press release announcing that the government had decided not to carry out the cuts to PIP, arrived in journalists’ inboxes hours before Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation did. Iain Duncan Smith had evidently wanted to resign and had picked on the cuts to disability payments as an excuse that would associate him with opposition to a very unpopular move by the government. One envisages IDS carefully composing his long resignation letter, and sending it… all the while oblivious to the memo that has been dropped on his desk by someone who does not care to encounter the angry minister personally, to let him know that those cuts he was nobly claiming to resign over, had already been reversed.]
[Update – in the Tuesday evening vote on the budget, Iain Duncan Smith voted for it, apparently having forgotten entirely that he’d supposedly resigned from the Cabinet because of “principled” objections to that same budget.]
There is, as Natalie Bloomer noted on Politics.co.uk on Thursday 17th March, a good chance that the reports Iain Duncan Smith wanted to conceal will show that his department – press releases he approved – have been guilty of wilfully deceiving the public.
In November 2011 the DWP issued a press release announcing that over one million people would be claiming universal credit by April 2014, with 12 million claimants moving onto the new benefit by 2017.
The following year, the DWP’s Annual Report and Accounts showed that the programme had progressed well. Then in September of that year, the BBC carried a story on concerns raised by the Local Government Association about the implementation of Universal Credit and in particular about the IT system. A spokesperson for the DWP responded at the time by saying: “Universal Credit is on track and on budget. To suggest anything else is incorrect.”
The unnamed spokesperson for the DWP most likely knew very well that the Local Government Association was right and the DWP was lying. Universal Credit is neither being rolled out on time or in budget, but the DWP claimed that it was.
Is Iain Duncan Smith resigning for fear that the freedom of information requests to be published, will reveal that David Cameron should have fired Iain Duncan Smith for expensive incompetence three years earlier?
I won’t say “how many lives might have been saved if he had”, because David Cameron’s and George Osborne’s austerity ideology is lethal with or without Iain Duncan Smith. But Iain Duncan Smith’s incompetent, brutal bungling made a bad situation much worse.
Goodbye. Don’t let the door hit your arse on the way out.