Elephants in the studio: Andrew Neil interviews Iain Duncan Smith


Today’s Sunday Politics interview was an almost reasonable attempt at getting facts from the slippery Iain Duncan Smith.

Most of the information provided by the Work and Pensions Secretary wasn’t factually accurate, but at least Andrew Neil had the guts to ask some of the questions this blog did not expect from him.

Let’s be honest, though – he bottled the Big One. The Elephant in the Studio was the number of people who have died due to the Incapacity Benefit/ESA sanctions regime imposed by Iain Duncan Smith (never mind Labour’s early involvement; it’s a Tory baby now) and policed by Atos (although the firm has realised this is commercial suicide and is trying to get out of the contract).

Oh, you thought the reference to elephants was aimed at Messrs Neil and Duncan Smith themselves? No – they might be large, lumbering monsters but the largest pachyderms in the room were metaphorical.

The question is topical as it is still only a matter of days since we all learned that Mark Wood died of starvation after the DWP found him fit for work – despite mental problems including an eating disorder. The DWP has maintained, in the face of all the evidence, that there is no reason to relate claimant deaths to loss of benefits, but this fantasy is likely to be ruined by the verdict of Mr Wood’s inquest.

The relevant questions are: Why has he decided to cover up the number of suicides? And does he have a figure relating to the number of deaths before he accepts a policy might not be working?

Why were they not put? Did Mr… Smith impose a moratorium on them before he entered the studio?

But let’s be fair to Mr Neil. Questions from the POLITICS’ Facebook page WERE directed to the Secretary-in-a-State, starting with one from Lesley Roberts, asking why so much Universal Credit funding has been written off. The response was a rehash of the excuse given to the Work and Pensions Committee; that the money has been written DOWN (meaning, I think, that the value of the investment has been downgraded in the same way your computer is worth less now than the amount you paid for it – “the amortisation of cost over a period of time”). That’s not an acceptable answer as the money has still been spent.

“You’ve written off £140 million,” said Mr Neil.

“No no no, we haven’t,” insisted Iain Duncan Smith, starting a pattern that would continue throughout the interview.

As Vox Political commenter Shaun Gardner remarked: “It’s more than a little frightening that every set of statistics, be it ONS or Institute of Fiscal Studies, is wrong and IDS is correct. He’s a bloody madman.”

“But even your Conservative cabinet colleague Francis Maude says the implementation of Universal Credit has been, quote, ‘pretty lamentable’!” This was laughed off as a reference to a time before … Smith made changes to the project. Emergency changes, these were, that he didn’t mention to anyone until many months later, maintaining that everything was hunky-dory in the meantime.

Challenged over the fact that he was predicting a million people would be on UC by April, and only 3,000 are currently in receipt, the man we call RTU (Returned To Unit) said: “I’m not going to bandy figures around,” then immediately went back on this with, “It’s over 6,000 and rising.” He said he wanted to roll it out carefully, having made changes two years ago. That won’t wash, because he ALWAYS said he was going to go slow with this disastrous white elephant of a scheme.

One aspect of what he said that disturbed this writer was when the Secretary of State claimed Universal Credit would make it easier for people to take short-term work while they look for long-term jobs. He said the current system penalises people for doing this, and we can see from people’s recent experiences http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2014/03/08/sanctioned-for-working-and-being-honest-about-it/ that there is truth in it. But the nature of Universal Credit means that benefits are adjusted according to the amount people have earned; if someone does a day’s work and is paid even minimum wage for it, then the UC computers (if they ever work) will dock that amount from that person’s benefit – they will be no better-off. In fact, they may be worse-off, as there may be knock-on effects on other aspects of that person’s income. How is this making work pay?

“Universal Credit IS supposed to make work pay – that is your mantra,” said Mr Neil. “Under Universal Credit, the marginal tax rate can still be 76 per cent!

“Er, no, actually,” said the interviewee, going on to say it would be 76 per cent for lone parents “in the tax bracket”. What tax bracket? Was he really saying this only counted for lone parents who found a job paying enough for them to cross the ever-higher Income Tax threshold, and he doesn’t expect these people (who would also have to pay for child care, of course) to ever cross that threshold? What does that say about the kind of work he expects people to be taking under a Tory government – the kind of pay they will receive? What does that say about his expectations for lone parents ever to find work that pays? What does it say about the Conservative Party’s expectations regarding Income Tax, if most people are only ever expected to find work that doesn’t mean they will ever earn enough to pay it?

Mr Neil’s response: “You’re going to tax poor people at the same rate that the French socialist government taxes billionaires!”

Moving on to the Work Programme, Mr Neil quoted the Commons Public Accounts Committee, who said it was “worse than doing nothing”.

Response: “No, they’re wrong, it’s actually way better than doing nothing.” Backed up with some statistics about 280,000 people getting into sustained work for more than six months. He added that a company had been sacked in the past week for poor performance as there is competition in every area and WP provider companies don’t get paid if they don’t hit targets. The last point is extremely debateable, considering the woeful lack of effort to help people, as witnessed by many people who have been through the process and then commented about it on this blog.

Mr Neil’s riposte: “‘The best-performing provider only moved five per cent of people off-benefit and into work; the worst managed just two per cent. The programme is failing young people and the hardest to help.'” Mr… Smith said this was from a National Audit Office report that referred only to the first few months of the programme. In fact (see Vox Political articles of the past) the Work Programme has been a failure for both of its first two years; it is still in its third.

Neil: “Why is long-term unemployment rising?”

Duncan Smith: “Long-term unemployment is falling.”

Neil: “Not in figures that have been announced by the ONS.”

Duncan Smith harped back to the competition among WP providers, saying it was what drives up performance. In fact, we’ve seen that this competition drives performance DOWN, as these for-profit companies scrabble to make the most money by providing the worst service.

Courageously, Mr Neil moved on to Mr… Smith’s religious beliefs. He pointed out that the Secretary of State is a practising Catholic, but the most senior Catholic in the land, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, has attacked his “reforms”, saying they are becoming “more and more punitive”.

Response: “I don’t agree… Most of the facts they put in were incorrect. Disposable income… is at its highest level that it has been for a long time.” He said the poorest 10 per cent are now spending a lower proportion of their income on food “because their disposable income has improved”.

What an interesting insight into Planet Duncan Smith THAT was! Who thinks the more likely reason is that they have less money to spend on food because they are having to spend a larger proportion of their DWINDLING income on the rent (thanks to the Bedroom Tax) and on utility bills (because the Tory-led government has allowed private electricity, gas and water firms to charge whatever they wanted, unchecked, for too long)?

Housing benefit: Mr Neil pointed out that David Cameron announced people with disabled children would be exempt from the Bedroom Tax – but only after the DWP fought a High Court battle in support of the opposite position. Iain Duncan Smith fudged the issue. He said it was usual to go to appeal, but that he had said it was reasonable to exempt this group. The fact is that he fought tooth and nail to ensure disabled children would be victimised, failed, and cut his losses.

“The courts have upheld all of our positions on this, against much complaints,” he insisted. Let’s see… The Supreme Court has ruled that regulations governing “back to work” schemes were illegal. The Court of Appeal has rejected the government’s appeal against a ruling by the Upper Tribunal that the work capability assessment discriminates against people with mental health problems. The DWP itself admitted that Bedroom Tax regulations had ignored legislation exempting people who had occupied social housing and been in receipt of Housing Benefit since before January 1996 – but not before one such person, faced with a bill she could no longer afford to pay, walked onto a motorway where she was hit by a lorry and killed. The rules have since been amended to ensure that this group can be victimised along with everyone else.

The Work and Pensions Secretary went on to say that he hadn’t cut the rise in Housing Benefit; he had lowered it. If anyone wants to explain that distinction, please do.

He also said councils needed to use their accommodation more carefully, to improve the lot of people living in desperate overcrowding. Perhaps he is unaware that his government has been allowing (if not encouraging) councils to continue selling off their housing stock, making this increasingly less achievable – but this is doubtful. It’s his business to know.

Jobseekers’ Allowance: “A centre-right thinktank [Policy Exchange] that you’ve been associated with says 70,000 jobseekers’ benefits have been withdrawn unfairly.”

“Not correct.”

He said this was “a very small subset”, that “there is an immediate review within seven days”, and that people are “immediately able to get a hardship fund”.

Let’s ask Vox Political commenter Shaun Gardner (again) about this. He says: “Err no you can’t. It’s a never ending stream of BS and denial. IDS is bad for your mental health. He should come with a government health warning.”

Thanks for that, Shaun!

“This is not a nasty, vicious system,” claimed Iain Duncan Smith, straight-faced.

Back to Mr Neil: “Is child poverty rising?” (We know it is – Vox Political has carried figures from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and those quoted on this show came from the Institute of Fiscal Studies, a right-wing thinktank that once boasted Margaret Thatcher as one of its members.)

“No. Child poverty is actually falling.” A flat-out lie.

Final observation from Mr Neil: “More people in poverty are now in working families… For them, work is NOT paying.”

Final gambit from Mr Duncan Smith – and it’s an oldie: “Those figures refer to the last government’s time in government.” What a shame it isn’t true. The figures we have, from the JRF (again) include the first three years of Iain Duncan Smith’s time in office (up to and including 2012). In other words, this was another bare-faced lie.

And that was it. Apparently 20 minutes was not long enough to get all of Iain Duncan Smith’s lies broadcast, so he has agreed to come back and do some more lying at a later date.

Let’s leave this with one question that was definitely not going to get anywhere near RTU. It came from Sophie Hawthorne and runs as follows: “I was wondering if the Obersturmführer might be asked whether or not he understands what will happen to quisling lackeys like himself, with a solid track record of ideological, dogmatic hatred and pathological dishonesty, when his privileged masters need a scapegoat to sacrifice in order to assuage the anger at the chaos he has created at their behest?

“I suggest he reads up on the fate of another thuggish bully-boy just like himself, during a previous regime which had a fondness for social, racial and ethnic cleansing… Nacht der langen Messer [Night of the Long Knives], Herr Duncan Schmitt, and remember the fate of Ernst Rohm?”

For those who aren’t aware, Rohm was a lieutenant of Adolf Hitler who founded the SA (forerunner of the SS). He was executed as a potential rival of Hitler’s as part of the Night of the Long Knives in 1934.

After this performance, there will be plenty of people across the UK sharpening their knives for Iain Duncan Smith.

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  1. Cosmo March 9, 2014 at 3:51 pm - Reply

    Neil was a member of the Conservative Association when studying at Glasgow University (under Vince Cable no less!) and worked for the Conservative Party as a researcher after graduation. So I wouldn’t say Andrew Neil was completely unbiased when it comes to politics and economics. However, the interview with IDS was extraordinarily weak with a poorly briefed Neil failing to take IDS to task and refute his many lies, gaffes and exaggerations. Smith kept talking about “new figures” which “hadn’t yet been released” which showed what a great success his welfare reforms were having; he almost sounded like a cult leader asking for his devotees to believe what he said because God had revealed the truth to him.

    Although I suspect that nobody really believe that Universal Credit will ever happen surely everybody knows that the idea behind it isn’t to enable people to move off benefit into short term and temporary work and then into full time work, but to make everybody earning less than the minimum wage. e.g., part-time workers, constantly look for more work (second jobs or new jobs) or better paid work with their in-work benefits hanging by a thread under threat of sanction, i.e., denial of entitlements for up to three years, if they fail to satisfy the powers that be that they have exerted themselves sufficiently on a monthly basis. There has been talk of part-time workers earning less than the minimum wage and working less than 35 hours a week having to make up the deficit in hours by undertaking unpaid workfare or face losing their in-work benefits via a sanction.

    Hard to believe isn’t it?

    The whole idea behind IDS’ welfare reforms is to create a climate of fear in which people earning less than the minimum wage and in receipt of in-work benefits toe the line and passively do everything the DWP tells them like thralls. Step out of line by accident or design and you get coshed with a sanction which could leave you destitute on the say so of a junior DWP official, e.g., clerk in a Jobcentre.

    The only good thing about IDS is that his catastrophic career of dishonesty, fantasy and failure is drawing to a close.

    This IS the monster’s final hurrah.

  2. AM-FM March 9, 2014 at 3:54 pm - Reply

    I don’t think he said a single thing that was true.

    Even if there are now 6,000 on UC, that’s 0.04%, or in RTU speak – nearly half!

    Here on 5/9/13 I said I don’t fancy Howard’s chances, I’ll predict he’ll be next to leave the sinking ship, if he hasn’t already.

  3. nearlydead March 9, 2014 at 4:42 pm - Reply

    Reblogged this on nearlydead.

  4. Linda Ellis March 9, 2014 at 4:45 pm - Reply

    I watched it and on at least three questions it was Labour’s fault , child poverty hasn’t risen on his watch that was the figures under Labour , The man is a Lunatic he doesn’t want to take the blame for anything yet there his policies that are causing starvation and Death ,

  5. beastrabban March 9, 2014 at 4:45 pm - Reply

    Reblogged this on Beastrabban’s Weblog.

  6. joanna March 9, 2014 at 4:47 pm - Reply

    One thing I don’t understand Mike if you will let me know? But IDS keeps banging on about universal credit being fully rolled out by 2018, I thought you said that one government cannot compel another to carry on with it’s plans is that true? and if so, then isn’t IDS being completely arrogant talking about his plans?

    Oh and did you notice how he was harping on about drug addiction, like that is the only thing the poor are capable of !!!!

    I’m not usually a violent person, but I would so love to bury a hatchet in IDS aka, RTU’s head!!!!!!

    • Mike Sivier March 9, 2014 at 4:59 pm - Reply

      Yes, he’s assuming that a Conservative or Conservative-led government will be in office in 2018, or that Labour will continue the project (no guarantee of that).

  7. thelovelywibblywobblyoldlady March 9, 2014 at 5:06 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the overview Mike. As expected, he told the usual lies, I just think he’s one of those people who convince themselves that they’re telling the truth.

  8. samedifference1 March 9, 2014 at 5:14 pm - Reply

    Reblogged this on Same Difference.

  9. argotina1 March 9, 2014 at 5:28 pm - Reply

    Reblogged this on Benefit tales.

  10. Nick March 9, 2014 at 5:57 pm - Reply

    Andrew Neil would have been sacked by the BBC if he asked any question on how many sick and disabled had died going through welfare reform

    Andrew Neil should have known how many have died in the first place and had he done so he would then have been barred from interviewing IDS so this game with keeping the welfare reforms deaths a secret with regret goes on

    it only takes one journalist to bring these deaths to a halt by bringing the full death total out in to the public arena and yes they will lose their job but we have to hope and pray that one of them has the courage to do so at some point and hopefully soon

  11. Kerry Davies March 9, 2014 at 6:01 pm - Reply

    Oh thou art all better people than me. I can’t afford a new TV right now so can’t afford to have his odious face appear on the cheapo Asda thing in the corner.

    It doesn’t really matter if he lies to Neil when lying to select committees is punishable by imprisonment and IDS is still at large.

  12. Crash Raindog March 9, 2014 at 6:30 pm - Reply

    If this guy had been punched in the head by Andrew Neil for every lie he spewed this morning, his neck would be a bloody stump by the end of the interview.

  13. jaypot2012 March 9, 2014 at 7:06 pm - Reply

    I’m glad I didn’t watch it as that weasel of a man would have raised my BP! From what I’ve read, the interview was based on lies, should be reported to the Commons Public Accounts Committee and to those who sit on this, as well as any statistics committee that is involved with his lies!
    I’ve had a knife sharpened for this evil barsteward since I first heard that he had a job in the cabinet!
    Why oh why couldn’t someone have been waiting and done us all a favour!

  14. jaypot2012 March 9, 2014 at 7:09 pm - Reply

    Reblogged this on Jay's Journal and commented:
    IDS again…

  15. lallygag26 March 9, 2014 at 7:48 pm - Reply

    Unbelievably he said if people were sanctioned there was the social fund and the hardship fund……er, no there isn’t, they’ve been removed.

  16. Terry Cfc Poole March 10, 2014 at 1:03 am - Reply

    hes a pathetic f*****ing liar, end of.

  17. Stephen Bee March 10, 2014 at 3:31 am - Reply

    Fear not…somebody, somewhere, sometime..is gonna ‘take this evil b*****d out’..and i’m gonna throw a huge party and celebrate

  18. blood on his hands rtu March 10, 2014 at 7:37 am - Reply

    The man’s a liar!! “If people are sanctioned there is hardship payments!!” What, the ones that are not payable for the two weeks of the sanction? This man is dangerous, and I hope karma catches up with the bald c*** soon!!

  19. Paul Smyth March 10, 2014 at 9:20 am - Reply

    Reblogged this on The Greater Fool.

  20. AM-FM March 10, 2014 at 11:47 am - Reply

    “IDS has a year to prove his welfare reforms are working”

    Perhaps they’ve missed all the claims and statistics that his reforms are “allready working”, or perhaps just like the rest of us, they haven’t believed a word either.


  21. […] Vox Political says, […]

  22. […] Today's Sunday Politics interview was an almost reasonable attempt at getting facts from the slippery Iain Duncan Smith. Most of the information provided by the Work and Pensions Secretary wasn't f…  […]

  23. Phil Rees March 13, 2014 at 3:38 pm - Reply

    If this is how the tories behave in coalition then imagine the damage they could do if they won a majority.

  24. […] and its Secretary-in-a-State, have had their attention drawn to the deaths many times, if not in interviews then in Parliament. DWP representatives (if not Mr Duncan Smith himself) have taken pains to say […]

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