Iain Duncan Smith owes us all an apology – but do we owe one to Rachel Reeves?

Iain Duncan Smith: He opens his mouth - and the world screams. [Image: Steve Bell]

Iain Duncan Smith: He opens his mouth – and the world screams. [Image: Steve Bell]

It seems redundant to start an article by saying Iain Duncan Smith is a filthy liar, because it is a fact that we all know too well already.

The latest offence – and the word is used very deliberately – took place during Work and Pensions Questions in Parliament yesterday (October 14) and means that he has lied to Parliament – not for the first time, either!

It is interesting that he phrased his words in a particular way. Responding to Andy Sawford’s call for clarity on whether, under the new claimant commitment, benefits officers will sanction jobseekers for refusing zero-hours work, he said this referred to “people’s obligations under the existing terms… Once they are offered a job they must take it… Right now, zero-hours contracts are legal.”

You will note, Dear Reader, that he did not simply say, “Under the claimant commitment, they must take zero-hours work or be sanctioned,” even though that is clearly the meaning of his words. It seems likely he was looking for leeway if questioned about it afterwards.

Well, he shouldn’t get any. A reasonable person, looking at the statement, will draw the obvious – intended – conclusion.

It is a conclusion – and a statement – that runs against current DWP policy.

The DWP responded to a Freedom of Information request in July this year, which also called for clarity on zero-hours contracts. The response contains the very clear statement: “Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants are not required to apply for zero hours contract vacancies and they will not face sanctions for turning down the offer of a zero hours contract.”

So Iain Duncan Smith was lying to Parliament yesterday – a very grave offence for a Secretary of State to commit.

Smith said, responding to Mr Sawford: “People will lose benefits for three months for a first offence, six months for a second offence and three years for a third offence.” When it comes to Parliamentary lies, he has committed multiple offences, and yet he gets away with it every time.


Another person who seems to have had trouble saying what they mean is Rachel Reeves. This blog – and many other people – took her to task last weekend, after The Observer published an interview in which she reportedly made many ill-advised comments, giving the impression that Labour policy on social security was lurching to the right yet again.

Yesterday a statement appeared on the Labour Party website in which the new Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary put forward a much more reasonable plan for social security reform under a Labour government. Particularly attractive are the parts where she says Labour will work with the disabled to design services and benefits that will help them play their part, and where she promises to repeal the Bedroom Tax, which has penalised vulnerable people, many of them disabled.

It is a much better statement of intent and indicates that Ms Reeves has been from one end to the other of a very steep learning curve with extreme rapidity.

Does it mean she was misquoted in the Observer article, and should she receive an apology from those of us who leapt down her throat? No.

There has been no suggestion that the article was inaccurate or unfair. The logical conclusion is that she said those words, and it is also logical to deduce that, had we not reacted so strongly, she might not have released the new statement.

It is unfortunate that, for many, the damage has been done. The Observer article was the first chance we had to see what the new Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary was thinking – and first impressions last. Her new statement seems like to go largely unreported. It should be noted that Tristram Hunt also made a fool of himself by supporting Michael Gove’s wasteful and elitist ‘Free Schools’ scheme. Hopefully Ed Miliband has accepted the need to make sure all of his Shadow Cabinet stay on-message from now until the next election. Reeves and Hunt should count themselves lucky to still have their new jobs.

But let’s not dwell on that. The new statement by Rachel Reeves has much to commend it, and is reproduced in full below. Your responses are invited.

Leading the debate on employment, poverty and social security.

Families facing a cost of living crisis want to know we have a social security system that is fair and sustainable, with costs kept under control but there for them when they need it.

The Tories seek to use every opportunity to divide this country and set one group of people against another. But their approach is failing – with the result that people are left out of work for year after year and costs to the country continue to rise. The Work Programme isn’t working, the roll-out of Universal Credit is in disarray, the Youth Contract has been a flop and there is mounting anger at the degrading and disgraceful treatment of disabled people by ATOS.

The complacent Tories are congratulating themselves about a long-delayed recovery. But almost a million young people are out of work. For those in work, increasing numbers of them aren’t being paid a living wage, are stuck on zero hours contracts or working part time when they want to work full time, and are being hit by soaring rents because levels of house building are so low – all of which drive up the benefits bill.

Labour will control the costs of social security by getting more people into work, rewarding work and tackling low pay, investing in the future, and recognising contribution. We’ll strive to make the right to work a reality for people with disabilities, working with them to design services and benefits that enable them to play their part.

A One Nation social security system will be one with responsibility at its heart – people receiving benefits who can work have a responsibility to look for work, prepare for work and take jobs that are available to them, but government has a responsibility to treat benefit recipients fairly and decently, help and support them and work with employers to ensure there are real job opportunities available.

Our compulsory jobs guarantees for young people and the long term unemployed, funded by repeating the tax on bank bonuses and limiting pensions tax relief for those on more than £150,000, would ensure there is work for under 25s out of work for more than a year and adults out of work for more than two years. These would be proper paid jobs – and people would be expected to take them or face losing benefits.

And unlike the Tories, we’ll put an effective cap on structural social security spending by getting tough on the causes of unemployment and rising benefit bills: low pay, lack of economic opportunity, shortage of affordable housing.

We would repeal cruel and counterproductive measures like David Cameron’s Bedroom Tax. I see constituents week in and week out with heart-breaking stories about how this policy is hitting them and their families. Around the country hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people, many of them disabled, are being penalised by this perverse policy which could end up costing more than it saves because of the distress and disruption it’s causing.

And we’ll keep up the campaign for the living wage, and for the economic reforms we need to ensure that prosperity is fairly shared and welfare is not a substitute for good employment and decent jobs.

39 thoughts on “Iain Duncan Smith owes us all an apology – but do we owe one to Rachel Reeves?

  1. skwalker1964

    Reblogged this on The SKWAWKBOX Blog and commented:
    Brilliant spot by Vox Political – once again, Iain Smith is caught lying to Parliament and breathing threats against unemployed people that even the DWP’s own guidance says are not valid. But of course they don’t tell you that.
    Please read and share!

    1. Lesley Harrison

      This also includes their phrase that it is an “offence” which means the benefits are suspended, not just a non-acceptance of unsuitable work.

  2. gavinpollock

    It is, of course, highly possible that IDS wasn’t lying, but simply doesn’t know the answer to the question. He’s famously not much of a details man. Details like what will happen to passported benefits like free school meals once Universal Credit comes in, how many people are using foodbanks, and what he did at university, all escape him.

    1. George Morley

      He still thinks that a reciprocal agreement is necessary to enable a frozen pensioner to get an indexed pension when DWP have admitted that it is not because the freezing is done by a government regulation, so he is part of the problem for those pensioners that are denied.

  3. Spoonydoc

    The statement is certainly an improvement but something that has gone largely unnoticed as far as I’ve seen, is Reeves last comment in the Observer regarding the benefit cap. Not only did she say she supported it, she advocated introducing regional variations.
    The £25,000 figure was in part driven by the high rents in London. Under this new policy of regional variations, each area would see a lower cap introduced to reflect the lower rents. This would in effect be yet another benefit cut for tens of thousands of people across the country at a time when the situation is so bad the Red Cross is launching an emergency food aid plan.
    I have yet to see any reassurance that this is not going to happen.

    1. Sue Brock

      I agree with this. Labour agreeing with a benefit cap and actually suggesting it is too high for some areas is quite honestly obscene. All benefits letters start with a sentence something like —- “The govt says you need **** a week to live on”. For an under 25 yr old I think that is currently about £66. Over 25 and I think it’s about £73. A benefits cap would reduce this! How can that be morally right?? Benefits in the UK are already some of the lowest in Europe. Labour shadow ministers need a dose of what is reality for a lot of us ——– living from hand to mouth year after year. (I am the full time carer of an adult disabled son and my benefits total £100 approx a week.)

  4. Tony Britton

    Rachel still needs to say what they intend to do regarding the sham WCA. Deciding who can or can’t work, after a fair and honest assement would make everything else in her new statement make more sense. As it stands we are still in the ridiculous position where people in their hospital beds nearing their last breath are declared fit for work .

  5. pauline dewis

    Frankly it’s just more of the same from them both, lies from IBS and whatever she thinks will win her some more time on her current salary. Labour are going to say anybloodything at all if they think it will get them in just as they always do.

  6. John Anthony Shields

    In the last while I have grown to love your sincerity & fantastic writing Mike Sivier. You have articulated perfectly for me & so many others our feelings exactly. On the Reeves subject however I do not agree totally with you. In my opinion her Observer article was because she completely misjudged the mood of the nation & was pandering to the Daily Mail types who until lately the Labour Party seemed to see as more important to them than the Labour supporter! I think the tide is turning in the opinion of so many now who have realized how deceitful, nasty, dishonest, greedy & toxic this government is, even some Tory supporters are starting to see the sheer the lunacy & slime of those that governs us?
    Reeve’s article shows to me that she is not a discernible person who was saying what she thought the people wanted to hear. When there was an obvious backlash she released a new statement much closer to what every sane, honest person with an ounce of integrity believes. I do not under any circumstances want anyone representing me who would say one thing one day & then totally back track the next day. Had there not been a backlash do you really believe she would have had produced her new statement? I am fed up with so many in politics who are in it mainly for themselves. People like you Mike Sivier are the type of person I trust because you speak the truth because of your compassion & disgust about what is going on for no individual gain for you at the expense of others less fortunate Reeves doesn’t.

    1. Mike Sivier

      I don’t think we’re at cross purposes here. My conclusion was that Rachel Reeves doesn’t deserve an apology because she hasn’t implied that anything in the Observer article was different from what she said. So all your other criticisms are fair comment and, while I approve of her statement, I have reservations about its sincerity, simply because it was prompted by a backlash against the interview.

  7. tanith

    no we dont owe HER an apology /she said it and it will stay in a lot of peoples minds regardless of what shes saying now /i know it will in mine/ too clever for her own good that woman is /and shes done a lot of damage after all ED S GOOD WORK his speech was absolutely brilliant and he got a lot of would be voters trusting him /i still do trust him and think hes a lovely guy /will make a great PM as hes got a heart for the people/but if reeves carries on spouting this stuff all will be lost for labour im afraid as all ED S good work will be undone

  8. Sue Brock

    “she says Labour will work with the disabled to design services and benefits that will help them play their part” ——- that is what Labour said when they introduced the ESA! They always couch this stuff in terms of help and support when they mean a big stick to beat a person with! It should be a fundamental part of ESA that if a sick or disabled person feels they cannot work then it should be their choice. That is because everyones circumstances are totally different even if they have identical disabilities. If govt can help to break down some of the barriers that affect some people then great. But give people the choice because we dont walk in their shoes.

    1. jed goodright

      Since the 1960’s there had been some valuable developments on understand disability both individually and politically. There seemed to be a genuine shift in thinking and in policy. The ‘medical model’ seemed to be becoming a distant memory. This has all gone now. Terror rules and propaganda sways. We have New labour to thank for this situation. I know of Peter Lilley’s daliance with UNUM in the 1990s. If you look at labour today, most of the same faces are still there. Labour has not proved in any way it is the party of the people. I have no trust in anything they say. That is not the fault of the Coalition. It is the labour party’s problem and they are nowhere near solving it.

      A start would be throwing out all the right wingers, banning the WCA, throwing out UNUM and ATOS and all the other deadbeats and hangers on. It won’t happen

    2. Special Guest Star

      “she says Labour will work with the disabled to design services and benefits that will help them play their part” ——- that is what Labour said when they introduced the ESA! They always couch this stuff in terms of help and support when they mean a big stick to beat a person with!”


  9. PendanticGeek

    Bedroom tax to be independantly reviewed after housing associations and the BBC reconstruct the faulty DWP costing model from multiple FOI requests. DWP wouldn’t provide the model so careful questioning showed enough to build it and demonstrate what a crock of shit it is.

  10. jray

    Claimant Commitment? After a recent visit to the JCP to sigh on I was asked to show proof of my job search(new hit squad clerk) I produced 18 businesses that I had applied for,written down,as I was told 2 visits ago that a printout from Universal Jobmatch was not allowed(?) ..Clerk “you have not granted access to your UJM account” No “We must have access to verify you have applied,you could of just written these down!” I have a printout,and do I have to grant you access? “I need access” Is it mandatory? “You have refused to cooperate and cannot prove to my satisfaction that you have met your JSA obligations,I am raising a doubt,you have the right to appeal,but until that time your benefit will be stopped”…Is it mandatory to grant you access? “You are being confrontational,this meeting is over” I asked to speak to a Manager,45 minute wait and ushered into a room,presented the facts and was allowed access to a computer(IAD) brought up my UJM account and proved that over the last 3 Months that I had applied for 219 positions and once again asked if allowing access was mandatory..”It would make life easier for you” Okay,but is it mandatory…”Your sanction doubt has been lifted”….Went to the bank today..No benefit
    I have no problem playing by the rules,but should not the DWP/JCP also be held to account for failure to deliver?

    1. Sue Brock

      Jray this just makes my blood boil! Please write to Rachael Reeves and relate this experience? Claiments are treated like dirt on peoples shoes and not only that but the DWP and local offices are working to sanction targets. It seems to be reaching a point where a person needs to take a lawyer with them to sign on!

    2. Mick Ruhland

      Thanks for standing up and sharing. Talking of playing by the rules, and lawyers, Financial Redress for Maladministration, DWP, April 2012 is worth a read, imo.

      1. Mick Ruhland

        I think publicising this could encourage people to try to get recompense for shoddy, malicious and downright unlawful treatment by DWP. It’s difficult for people to stand up for their rights when they don’t know they exist,

  11. Derek Robinson

    This has been damaging to Labour and fill no one with any confidence that they have in reality learnt any lessons at all.
    Am I to expect the same grovelling climbdown from the idiot Tristram Hunt.

  12. Nick

    plus all the deaths of the sick and disabled mike as IDS would say it’s only prematurely they were going to die anyhow one way or another

    the problem is with the way he speaks is that he sounds fearful to many sick and disabled and those people are at great risk of killing themselves just by his rhetoric alone especially those with mental illness who will find life intolerable and will become housebound just so that they feel safe as if they were to go out anything could happen

  13. Terry Casey (@tcliverpool)

    I always liked Rachel and thought she would go a long way in the party but her initial statement last week was crass and didn’t need to be said and I’m afraid I was one that attacked it. I was really frustrated when I read it and thought like another poster has said that all the work recently done at conference had been wasted, Rachel will come back from this faux pas, her latest statement that should have been her initial one was a lot better although I still feel forcing people into inappropriate jobs is not a sensible policy other than to get people off JSA, I personally would like to see her say we will train our kids and long term unemployed in legitimate trades or training that would be useful in the workplace rather than send people into situations set up to fail, although governments haven’t really done anything productive in that area for many years, they just use heavy threats and punitive penalties.

  14. Linda

    I still find the fact that Rachel Reeves has mentioned the Bedroom Tax as being ‘cruel and counterproductive’ but she says nothing about the equally cruel and counterproductive ATOS assessments quite worrying. Her statement is of course much better than the reported one, but when you break it down objectively it does not really turn anything back for disabled people other than the Bedroom Tax. Given the cumulative effect of all the legislation and the undue weight that has fallen on this group of people, I think the subject deserves more clarity and soon. Disabled people are a voting group, and need to be factored in accordingly. The ‘real jobs’ aspect for young people could also do with some clarity, ok they will be paid, but for doing what? I am dismayed at the lack of objectivity in her statements, and that she has not been prepared before speaking publicly on matters that concern millions of people. How many families do not have youngsters or older people or disabled members. All of whom need to feel that whatever future they vote for will be safer and have more potential than the current regime offers. I would not apologise either.

  15. Special Guest Star

    Rachel Reeves made the worst error a politician can make – she told the truth. She’s obviously a novice. Her initial statement was the true one.

    Of course she’s only backtracking now because of the outcry. Her only concern and Labour’s only concern, is that it may lose them the votes of the people they intend to betray and attack once they get elected. The fact that she would immediately launch into a vicious right-wing diatribe against the long term unemployed, full of the very worst right-wing stereotypes, loudly boasting about how she’s going to be even more harsh than the Tories in her first major interview after her promotion, shows us exactly who and what she really is and what her true values are. It also tells us a lot that “Red Ed” has appointed her to that position.

    She’s let the cat out of the bag now and now the most vulnerable, impoverished, disadvantaged and marginalised in society know what to expect should Labour regain front position at the trough. The brutal onslaught will continue unabated.

  16. Jj

    As soon as I read Reeve’s initial interview, I felt all the confidence I had in voting Labour again disintegrate.
    An appointment like this, to me, shows a real failure of judgement at the leadership level. A failure to recognise the mood of the nation, the mood of your supporters and the failings of the current strategies.

    Reeves herself missed a golden opportunity to capitalise on her opponents’ failures but instead just borrowed the hymn-sheet to give us a preview of her backing vocals.
    You would think that years of investing in unsubstantiated, often statistically contradicted reforms would be a godsend for a prospective minister for work and pensions, yet the best she could come up with was “these stupid reforms aren’t stupid or wasteful enough!”?

    Then again, maybe she naively decided accessible political rhetoric would get her some recognition from outside of the Labour core?
    The backlash seems to imply otherwise, but if Reeves has a similar level of discernment as Duncan Smith, she probably won’t notice.

  17. Kerry Davies

    Both Tristan Hunt and Ms Reeves have been the victims of propagandist cherry-picking of their original statements by a politically motivated media.

    Were I bothered I could slice’n’dice anything to give the wrong impression and this practice must be in the forefront of people’s minds in the next 500 days. We are going to be lied to as never before outside wartime.

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