Duncan Smith has ruined the DWP – and has nothing to show for it


Universal Credit has been an unmitigated calamity and so-called ‘reforms’ intended to end billions of pounds of spending on Incapacity Benefits every year have instead increased the cost – that is the end-of-Parliament report on Iain Duncan Smith’s Department of Work and Pensions from Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR).

In addition, the department has suffered serious – and possibly lasting – damage to its reputation since 2010, a reputation that was at a high when Mr Portes left it in 2008, due to the success of its integration of benefit offices and job centres into Job Centre Plus.

“Six years on, that reputation is in tatters,” he writes in The Guardian. “This decade’s flagship programme – the integration of the six major working-age benefits into universal credit – is far behind schedule, with tens of millions of pounds of IT investment already written off and much more to come. The [National Audit Office]’s verdict has been damning, describing weak management, ineffective control, and poor governance, with both ministers and civil servants coming in for severe criticism. External experts – most of whom supported the principles behind universal credit – are unsure of whether the system can ever be made to work, even several years late.

“But this is far from the worst of the failures. The collapse of the department’s contract with Atos to reassess incapacity benefit claimants means perhaps half a million remain in limbo. The suffering of individual claimants misclassified by Atos and DWP – in some cases left literally starving – has been well-publicised. Less so has been the cost to taxpayers. But the Office for Budget Responsibility’s Welfare Trends report, published last week, shows an upward revision of £3bn a year in spending on incapacity benefits – entirely attributable to delays and mismanagement.”

And it is all the fault of the Tories, it seems.

Mr Portes states: “But the evidence points to a combination of hubris on the part of Iain Duncan Smith, a reluctance by civil servants to push back against unrealistically ambitious timetables, and arbitrary, Treasury-driven spending cuts.” The man we call RTU (Return To Unit) or SNLR (Services No Longer Required) is too proud to admit his ambition outweighed his ability; his staff were too timid (afraid of him?) to make him face the realities of the situation and the Treasury, run by Duncan Smith’s rival George Osborne, forced cut upon cut onto the department, perhaps in an effort to make the Secretary-in-a-State look worse than he already did.

So “Even after it was obvious that the [Universal Credit] programme was well off-track, Duncan Smith continued to claim it was ‘on time and on budget’.”

Sir Bob Kerslake, outgoing head of the civil service, described a “culture of good news” where no one could say that things were going wrong.

And “Duncan Smith’s well-publicised attempts to shift the blame for the mess to civil servants has poisoned relations within the department”.

Meanwhile, in a bid to claw back some of the money lost on UC, ministers were desperately clamping down on incapacity benefit claimants: “Ministers firmly believed that hundreds of thousands of people on incapacity benefits could in fact work, and that the new work capability assessment would show just that, giving the Treasury some of the savings it needed. So when their own independent reviewer, Malcolm Harrington, told them that the work capability assessment needed major changes, and meanwhile the reassessment process should be delayed, they ignored him; not pressing ahead would have left a significant black hole in the sums.

“The predictable result – tens of thousands of appeals, many successful; considerable hardship; administrative chaos; and eventually the collapse of the DWP’s contract with Atos. And the long-term downward trend in the number of people on the benefit has now actually reversed. Ministers have yet to explain why, if it is really the case that hundreds of thousands of people were receiving the benefit when they shouldn’t have been, the “reforms” are now actually seeing the numbers going up again.

“The promised savings, of course, have long since vanished. In fact, the OBR estimated last week that the delays to the government’s plans for these two benefits are now costing taxpayers close to £5bn per year – dwarfing savings made elsewhere, and leaving a large potential black hole in the next government’s budget.”

Perhaps this is why Rachel Reeves keeps talking about money, rather than the human cost of the DWP’s bungling.

Only this morning, she was on Twitter telling us she would be appearing on LBC to talk about how Labour will “make work pay” – annoyingly trying to steal a Tory soundbite.

Perhaps, also, this is why the DWP is infamously reluctant to answer Freedom of Information requests. The infamous call for an update on the number of ESA claimants who have died since November 2011, first made by Yr Obdt Srvt in 2013 (following other unsuccessful attempts) is now  – on a second attempt – with the Information Commissioner’s Office on appeal after ministers found another reason to refuse it.

And the Huffington Post has told us that a perfectly legitimate request by Newsnight’s Chris Cook has also been snubbed by the department.

“Iain Duncan Smith’s DWP has made a name for itself as one of the most vindictive arms of government since the coalition came into power, far more concerned with saving money than serving its jobless customers, and as useful as a wet paper bag in getting people into work,” wrote Nick Stephenson.

“It has been found to be using targets to drive sanction numbers ever upwards, its actions are one of the main reasons why people need to use foodbanks, and its latest wheeze is for staff to go into schools to scare children away from claiming benefits.

Here on Vox Political, as stated above, we call Iain Duncan Smith ‘Return To Unit’. On the evidence above, let’s hope the voting public decide it’s time he actually went.

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  1. Marcus de Mowbray February 4, 2015 at 10:40 am - Reply

    The problem is that IDS is such a disaster that the Tories fear sacking him at any time will be admission that they were wrong to give him the job, wrong not to question his performance and sack him much earlier. It is impossible for Tories EVER to be wrong about any of their dogma, therefore IDS has to stay in his job. Only an election will get him out, and if the Tories do not get back in, then when the mess becomes public news it will be on “someone else’s watch” and the Tories will claim that it was not the Tories’ fault!

    • Mike Sivier February 4, 2015 at 11:56 am - Reply

      An accurate analysis, I fear – but a forlorn hope, also, because we have five years’ worth of material pinning the responsibility on Mr Services-No-Longer-Required Duncan Smith.

  2. gavinpollock February 4, 2015 at 10:42 am - Reply

    See, Mike, if you get behind the SNP, England will be able to deport Smith back to Scotland. Or at least bar him from any position of authority. :p

    My belief is that Smith’s entire philosophy is based on his own inability to stand on his own two feet. He’s always relied on the army, or his wife’s family, to feed and clothe him, as he’s repeatedly failed in everything he’s done.

    He’s projecting this dependency and failure onto benefit claimants, along with his seething self hatred, so he’s using the benefit system as a weapon instead of to help people.

    He’s a sad, pathetic, man, who needs help, and should never have been given any responsibility. UC is just the latest of his long list of abject failures.

    • Paul C. Dickie February 4, 2015 at 3:17 pm - Reply

      It is not wholly accurate to assert that the army or his wife’s family clothed Iain ‘Duncan’ Smith, as one of his expenses claims as an MP was for his underwear.

      Quite why he needed more underwear as an MP was never quite explained.

      • wildswimmerpete February 4, 2015 at 9:04 pm - Reply

        ……………it’s to replace his current collection of underpants when he soils them after being publicly found out, hopefully on May 8th.

    • aturtle05 February 4, 2015 at 3:40 pm - Reply

      The help RTU needs is similar to that which most of the ConDem coalition is no longer available as all mental health care is provided in the community and not in an institution where care can be given all day, every day.

      • Dave February 4, 2015 at 8:40 pm - Reply

        ConDem! :)

  3. Richard_Sage (@rjs2662) February 4, 2015 at 10:49 am - Reply

    IDS has claimed in a speech today that 600,000 have found jobs as a result of the work program, this sounds like another outrageous lie, can anyone fact check this?

    • Mike Sivier February 4, 2015 at 12:02 pm - Reply

      For the claim to stick, people have to have stayed in work for a certain length of time – either four months or six months, off the top of my head. But they don’t have to be in permanent work and then there are questions about zero-hours contracts, part-time work and associated issues. In addition, it is known that the DWP and its work programme providers operate a system called ‘Cream and Park’, in which people who are easiest to get into jobs have preferential treatment.
      What I’m saying is it’s entirely possible for his claim to be accurate, according to the way the DWP records figures, and for unemployment to have risen (although, again, this would be hidden).

  4. Bill Kruse February 4, 2015 at 11:43 am - Reply

    I’d say he’ll have plenty to show for it when all those companies he’s been shoveling taxpayers money into give him directorships and consultancies. I’d estimate he’ll be a multimillionaire.

    • Mike Sivier February 4, 2015 at 12:03 pm - Reply

      That’s why I think any firm taking money from this Coalition government should be cut off if another party or coalition takes over in May.

  5. Simon Alderson February 4, 2015 at 12:40 pm - Reply

    Considering that the only thing any current politician stands for is re-election and the lobbyist windfall that follows, that appears to be the real forlorn hope, Mike.

  6. Mr.Angry February 4, 2015 at 1:03 pm - Reply

    This was inevitable from the start the writing was on the wall for all to see, sadly not all wanted to read into it. The loss of life and suffering caused by his ideology is criminal and the PM stood by and let it happen. If he gets a directorship in any company involved his murderous regime should bring on a public inquiry. I take it he has the appropriate hand shake, he is the worst species I have ever had the misfortune of knowing.

    Great article Mike many thanks lets hope more and more get to know about this.

  7. jess February 4, 2015 at 1:14 pm - Reply

    “any firm taking money from this Coalition government should be cut off if another party or coalition takes over in May.”

    Absolutely agree. Mike

    But the ‘tendering process’ introduced under the wicked witch needs repealing first.

    After that has happened, perhaps some of the pillaged billions can be reclaimed too?

  8. SapphireStarMoon February 4, 2015 at 1:44 pm - Reply

    Iain Duncan Smith reminds me of Mr. William Collins from Pride & Prejudice. In both looks and manner.

    You do have one thing wrong. He does have something to show for his destruction of the DWP, and that is one hell of a body count.

    He has 73 dead disabled people a week to show for his work.

    • Mike Sivier February 4, 2015 at 3:09 pm - Reply

      Or 220, depending on which count you rate.
      Or who knows how many, considering the last count was between January and November 2011?

  9. Andy February 4, 2015 at 2:33 pm - Reply

    I wasn’t against the proposed universal credit system, in principle. It looked like it could reduce the bureaucracy in the system and might offer a stepping stone to a “Citizens Income”. Instead of a major overhaul of the system it’s just another example of the “sign above the door” changing. In defence of the “IT Guys”, ministers and civil servants dream up these projects and have no strategy of how there going to be deployed. They think that throwing millions at IT company’s is all that is needed. If the IT Guys are being paid they will continue to work on a problem however infeasible. Remember Reagan’s “Star Wars” project? It pumped millions of dollars into university’s research departments, which that were happy to accept, even though they knew that what the Pentagon wanted was not possible. UC Is just another example of ideology over reality.

  10. Geoff Poole February 4, 2015 at 2:33 pm - Reply

    I read somewhere that Cameron wanted to remove SNLR from Employment but SNLR refused to go. Makes me think he must have some rather interesting photos of Cameron. SNLR is a complete and utter liability. As you’ve pointed out it’s easy to massage the unemployment stats to one’s advantage.

    • Mike Sivier February 4, 2015 at 3:13 pm - Reply

      That’s right – it was the reshuffle of September 5, 2012. I reported at the time: “And Iain Duncan Smith will remain at Work and Pensions – oh yes he will! – despite having been offered Justice by David Cameron. This shows the weakness of the Prime Minister. As LabourList’s Mark Ferguson put it: ‘Cameron tried to move IDS. IDS said no. Cameron said “ah…um…ok”. Weak, weak, weak.'”

  11. aturtle05 February 4, 2015 at 3:52 pm - Reply

    Having just seen the massive document that details the increases in benefits in April, I would think that rather than adding these into a system where they will add to the complications of rent benefit etc, the next Secretary of State for Works and Pensions should think of simplifying the system.

    Basic Unemployment Benefit add Spouses allowance (if applicable)
    add basic illness allowance if off work because of illness
    add disability allowance for those more disabled
    add severe disability allowance for those severely disabled

    Modules that are added for each level, not a sliding scale. Rent cannot be paid to the claimant, but should be paid directly to the landlords and rent capping should be enforced so that a certain rent is paid for a type of property.

  12. Ian Wolton February 4, 2015 at 8:04 pm - Reply

    Personally i think the DWP are the most vindictive arm of government since the Waffen SS in nazi Germany!

  13. leonc1963 February 4, 2015 at 8:38 pm - Reply

    If you put a failure in charge of one of the Governments biggest departments what do you get? why of course failure.

  14. tony amato February 5, 2015 at 11:58 am - Reply

    what hope have we to get rid of these vindictive people when labour are just as bad? the cock up by ed balls on newsnight just shows how our hopes of any reverse of policy if a new government comes in is hot air?..i fear for our country I think the tories will win…because of the incompadence of labour?

    • Mike Sivier February 5, 2015 at 12:50 pm - Reply

      What, because he forgot a friend’s surname? Have a sense of proportion, please.

    • hstorm February 5, 2015 at 6:24 pm - Reply

      There’s something fantastically ironic about anybody who mis-spells the word ‘incompetent’.

  15. taylor February 8, 2015 at 12:20 am - Reply

    i think it would be more appropriate and a better use of public money if the entire cabinet were subjected to the same regime of pointless reassessment that the sick, disabled and vulnerable members of society have been made to endure. lets see how they feel when someone who they’ve never met gets to decide their future based on tick boxes and finds them no longer fit for purpose and allocates them work experience for 6 months with the only other options available to them are to become self employed or face sanctions

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