The “bully”: Perhaps Parliament is merely giving Iain Duncan ‘RTU’ Smith enough rope to hang himself, as the saying goes – but when considering the huge list of his misdemeanours, one has to ask how much rope he needs.
Sometimes information becomes public that boggles the mind. It seems Iain Duncan Smith bullied members of the Public Accounts Committee into blaming his permanent secretary, Robert Devereaux, for the failings of Universal Credit.
That’s right – it is alleged that the man who is afraid to reveal how many people have died because of his policies, whose mandatory work schemes have proved less successful than doing nothing, who changed the law after his rules for Workfare were found to be illegal – only for the Supreme Court to rule they were still illegal, whose departmental annual report is now nearly eight months late, who lied to Parliament and the public about the success of his benefit cap and who is afraid to face the Commons Work and Pensions committee to account for himself, has resorted to intimidation because he doesn’t want to take the blame for his latest – or rather, longest-running, catastrophe.
Let’s not even get started on the Bedroom Tax!
The allegation appears in a BBC News report, under a headline that claims David Cameron is supporting the unrepentant Work and Pensions secretary. Does this mean Cameron approves of such ungentlemanly behaviour as bullying? The report states that “Downing Street said the work and pensions secretary was ‘doing exactly the right thing’ with the new scheme.”
Smith has denied claims he tried to “lean on” members of the committee to place the blame on Mr Devereaux, but Labour sources on the committee told BBC News there was a “concerted” effort by Tory members to shift the blame, with extra meetings and discussions over amendments “pointing the finger” at the permanent secretary.
But David Cameron’s official spokesman was vague in his support from the Secretary-in-a-State. Asked if it was proper for a secretary of state to approach members of a select committee ahead of publication of a report, in the way alleged of …Smith, he said: “There are procedures that are in place for the relationship between departments and select committees and that is something the Department for Work and Pensions have been very clear about.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement, is it?
Labour’s shadow leader of the Commons, Angela Eagle, has demanded an urgent statement from …Smith: “This morning we learn of a wholly improper attempt to lean on members of an independent select committee of this House by Mr Duncan Smith and his parliamentary team to try to put the blame on the permanent secretary.”
She was wrong.
We don’t need a statement. We need disciplinary procedures.
The Torygraph has claimed this is Labour’s “strongest backing yet” for Universal Credit.
Is Ed Miliband, as Labour’s leader, blind to the amount of damage this will do to his party?
It seems likely that Byrne is trying to improve his position ahead of a shadow cabinet reshuffle, but Miliband would have to be stupid to keep him on, after the shadow work and pensions secretary caused one disaster after another.
Look at the Guardian article. The lead paragraph declares: “The coalition’s benefit cuts have descended into “chaos” that will cost an extra £1.4 billion because of delays, extra claimants, waste and complaints, Labour claims.” [Italics mine]
What about the human cost, then? What about the huge damage that these Conservative-led policies will cause to hard-working people up and down the UK? We know that the benefit cap has already caused huge harm to working-class people, and the bedroom tax is doing the same – and these are only recent examples of stupid, cruel Tory policies (forget the Liberal Democrats – they’re only around to rubber-stamp the plans of a Tory government).
This is telling us that Labour actually agrees with the ideology behind these schemes; it is in the execution of them that the parties differ. Here’s proof of it in the Guardian article: “The focus of Byrne’s speech will not be challenging the substance of reforms brought in by Iain Duncan Smith… but criticism of his failure to deliver them properly.
That is a terrible, terrible mistake for Labour to make and, as leader, Ed Miliband should be putting a stop to it at once.
The Guardian says, “he will pledge to ‘bring social security spending under control’.” That’s what the Tories say! Labour should be promising to bring fairness back to social security. Labour should be promising the removal of Atos, Unum and any other profit-making concerns from the business of the Department for Work and Pensions and Labour should be pledging to bring in a new system that concentrates on the needs and abilities of each claimant, as determined by proper medical evidence and not some silly made-up tick-box computer questionnaire that was devised to make it easier to sell bogus insurance schemes.
Why is Byrne making such silly promises? Because, the Guardian says, Labour wants to “shake off Tory claims that it is too much on the side of benefit claimants over working people”. In other words, he and they are worried about what the Tories say, and not about the torture through which they are putting ordinary people like you and me. They won’t win any elections that way!
Attacking the Tories over the way they are doing things, rather than the things they are doing, has of course left Byrne wide open to any kind of attack the Tories wished to launch and, sure enough, an ‘aide’ to Iain ‘Returned To Unit’ Smith dismissed Byrne’s claims as “laughable”.
Quoted by the Guardian, she said this was “yet another disastrous speech, void of any ideas”. It’s a rare situation in which I am forced to agree with a Conservative!
“Same old Labour is in the wrong place on welfare,” she continued. “They want people on benefits to make more money than the average hard-working family earns.” Now that – of course – is utter nonsense, but it will stay in people’s minds because the claim that the speech has no new ideas to offer, coupled with one that it is a “last-ditch attempt… to keep his job in the shadow cabinet” rings true.
The Telegraph article says Byrne has called for cross-party talks to clear up the “‘mess’ of delays and IT problems that he says have hit the policy.” Again, no mention that the policy is wrong. In fact, the article later states, “The project… is a good idea but needs to be rescued from the ‘disaster’ that it has become under [Mr Returned To Unit], he will claim.” A good idea? Universal Credit?
It’s a shame that he has decided to support the principles of the Tory regressions (we can’t call them reforms, and changes isn’t strong enough), because he did come up with a decent comment, that is also a truism: “There is now a private joke in Whitehall – to err is human, but to really foul things up you need Iain Duncan Smith.” But of course Byrne ruined it by saying it was Smith’s fault his harmful reforms are in crisis, rather than pouncing on them as bad ideas in their own right.
The Guardian article says “Shadow cabinet members are under pressure from Labour grandees to start spelling out their policies more clearly.” If this is Byrne’s idea of a Labour policy he should be dumped – not only from the shadow cabinet, but from Parliament and the Party – with haste.
Byrne has always been a dangerous liability – remember the damage he caused with one silly note about there being no money left after the 2010 general election?
He persuaded hundreds of Labour MPs to abstain from voting against the Tories’ hasty plan to legalise their robbery of millions of pounds from thousands of Jobseekers – the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act – in March, claiming that he had secured “concessions” that would make it worthwhile.
The first was a guarantee of appeal rights – a safeguard that had always been in place and that the Conservatives had not suggested they would drop.
The second was an independent review of the sanctions regime, with an urgent report and recommendations to Parliament. It is now nearly six months since that concession was made. Has anybody – anywhere – heard any more about this “urgent report”?
Byrne was hoodwinked into giving way on a policy that is hugely damaging to the financial security of millions of people and receiving nothing at all in return. That’s not even mentioning the damage caused to the Labour Party by this and other unnecessary concessions to the Conservatives.
The only sane choice for Ed Miliband is to sack Byrne on the spot and announce a reversal of Labour policy that will halt any support for regressive Conservative austerity measures that harm not only hard-working people and jobseekers who want to get onto the employment ladder but also the economy in general.
But Miliband seems weak – or at least indecisive. It seems he needs encouragement.
The mask slips: Iain Duncan Smith shows us all his true face.
On the face of it, he looked so promising, didn’t he?
When Iain Duncan Smith took up his position as the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in 2010, it was as one of the architects of ‘Compassionate Conservatism’, a project that was the first to be announced by David Cameron after he became Tory leader in 2005.
The new minister had been involved with social issues ever since the theme of the Conservative Party spring conference in 2002 struck a chord with him – it was ‘Helping the Vulnerable’.
Apparently it touched on his beliefs as a devout Catholic, and came at the same time as he visited Easterhouse and Gallowgate in Glasgow, where he was struck by the run-down housing, visible signs of drug abuse and general lack of hope.
Critics within the Tory party said they didn’t understand his interest, as it seemed to involve him walking around housing estates. Liam Fox (now a disgraced former Defence minister) said it needed a context, such as stressing the role of the family in lifting people out of poverty. It seems he also lacked the deft communications skills that were necessary. Perhaps we should have listened to these criticisms.
Iain Duncan Smith later wrote the report ‘Breakdown Britain’ about the harsh realities of family breakdown, drug abuse and youth crime.
All of that promised a turnaround for the ‘Nasty Party’, with an emphasis on helping the most disadvantaged people to advance in society – a philosophy that many believed was vital for a party coming into power – albeit in coalition – at a time when the UK was facing its worst economic crisis for 70 years.
What a shame that it was all a lie.
George Orwell once, famously, wrote, “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.” To understand Iain Duncan Smith’s social security policy, insert the word “Conservative” before the word “boot”.
Just look at what he has done to the sick and disabled. People who rely on state support for their very survival have been subjected to a humiliating and highly-stressful regime of tests in order to keep their benefits – tests which are entirely pointless because it has been proved that only 13 per cent of them will be allowed to continue receiving their benefit indefinitely. The rest go into either a ‘work-related activity’ group, for people expected to be fit for work within 365 days, or are signed ‘fit for work’ and forced onto Jobseekers’ Allowance immediately.
At the time of writing, official figures show an average of 73 sick or disabled people are dying every week as a result of this Iain Duncan Smith policy. Every six weeks, more of them die than have been killed on active service in Afghanistan since the British Army moved into that country 10 years ago.
That is his worst crime – but not the only one.
He has raised the retirement age, meaning millions will have to wait longer for their state pensions.
He is forcing millions of benefit recipients to take less money by ‘streamlining’ their payments into a single Universal Credit, which will be more difficult to manage and will be governed by a computerised system that – at present – doesn’t work.
He has pushed hundreds of thousands of jobseekers onto a work programme that turned out to be more of a way for his friends in the private sector to take public money than a channel back into work. Figures released yesterday show that the government would have achieved better results if the work programme had never been put into practice.
He has taken jobseekers away from activities likely to lead them into fulfilling full-time work and pushed them onto ‘Workfare’ programmes, forcing them to carry out menial tasks like stacking shelves in shops, just to keep their meagre benefit money. The system means participating businesses don’t have to take on new employees, so unemployment remains high, and the state – in effect – subsidises those firms.
His benefit cap will lead to a rise in homelessness and child poverty.
In December 2011 he drew up proposals to stop “under-employed” people “topping up” their wages with hand-outs when they are capable of working for longer. Individuals will be told they must earn a minimum amount each week from their jobs and will face being stripped of their housing benefit and tax credits if they fall short, under the plan. He has not, to my knowledge, told employers that they must ensure they pay enough for this policy to work. Therefore we can assume that this is a plan to take housing benefit and tax credits (or Universal Credit) from low-earners – depriving them of their homes as well, as they go into debt with their landlords.
In short, far from helping to solve problems of poverty, homelessness, and crime (which is often related to these), his policies seem designed to make them worse! Despite being shown – at great length – the error of his ways, he has refused to be swayed and remains determined to stick to his homicidal course.
And this is strange, because this is a man who has personally profited greatly from state support.
His first job was taxpayer-funded military service, carrying bags for a Major-General. After six years of this, he left the Army and spent six months on the dole. You can guarantee he was getting housing benefit for it. Current plans would give a man that age only as much as if he was renting a single room in a shared house, and one must wonder how well this gentleman would have coped in that situation.
He then started a job, using the skills he had gained while being paid by the taxpayer in the Army – as a salesman for arms dealer GEC-Marconi. Remember, this is the man who would later play a major part in ‘compassionate’ Conservatism.
He moved on to a property firm, but after six months found himself back on the dole (and housing benefit, one presumes). Then he sold gun-related magazines for Jane’s Information Group.
Then he got elected to Parliament, in 1992. Every year since then, he has been paid more than most taxpayers earn, and currently receives £134,565 per year.
He has had four children and received child benefit for all of them. He currently plans to restrict child benefit, making it payable for only two children per household. He put all of his children through private school – with the help of his MP’s salary which is paid by, you guessed it, the taxpayer.
His wife’s record of work, since they married, totals 15 months as his diary secretary – for which the taxpayer gave her £15,000. It has been suggested that she did not, in fact, do any work at all while drawing this paycheck.
A more recent example of this behaviour pattern involves his policy adviser Philippa Stroud, who also receives cash from a political thinktank. Read about it here.
He lives rent-free in a £2 million Tudor farmhouse on his father-in-law’s ancestral estate in Buckinghamshire, with three acres of land, a tennis court, swimming pool and some orchards.
One would think, if anybody had reason to be grateful for taxpayer-funded benefits, and to understand how this funding can help improve the life of somebody on the dole, it would be this former jobseeker, whose salary is paid by us to this day.
Finger-wagging rant: One tweeter commented, “You just KNOW IDS wanted to call Owen Jones a pleb back there…”
Iain Duncan Smith probably went home last night feeling satisfied that he had done his job well, putting forward his case for benefit cuts that will push thousands – maybe hundreds of thousands – of people out of their homes, on the BBC’s Question Time. After all, he had the last word, didn’t he?
Perhaps he didn’t count on the absolute twatting he received from the inhabitants of the social media.
Those who had seen the show wasted no time in putting forward their opinions about the clash between Smith and socialist “braying jackal” Owen Jones. Here’s what happened and what they said.
The question that sparked the clash was about whether the Work and Pensions Secretary’s plan to cap benefits would push large families out of their homes in London.
Yvette Cooper, also on this week’s panel, said the full consequences of the benefit cap and other measures being pushed through by the government were pushing up homelessness. “We’ve seen a 50 per cent increase in the number of families – families with children – living in bed and breakfast accommodation… That costs us a huge amount more… It’s a mix of the housing benefit changes but also the benefit cap – the way they have been introduced.”
Then Owen Jones stepped into the ring: “The reason this whole debate has become so toxic is a cynical demonisation campaign of people on benefits by the government,” he said. It’s as if he has been reading this blog.
“What they have tried to do is redirect people’s justifiable anger over ever-declining living standards from those at the top who’ve caused this crisis to people’s neighbours down the street. The working poor against the unemployed over benefits. Non-disabled people against disabled people. Private sector workers against public sector workers over pensions.” Absolutely correct, as pointed out and reiterated here many times in the past.
“Housing benefit is not going into the pockets of tenants, it’s lining the pockets of wealthy landlords charging extortionate rents,” he said, going on to utter something indistinct because others were talking over him. The impression I got was that he was saying successive governments, New Labour included, didn’t build council housing.
He went on to point out a statistic that the Tories have worked very hard to bury: “Most new claimants of housing benefit are in work; they don’t have enough money to pay extortionate rents.” Again, factually correct – and one must ask why employers do not pay enough. Why do they ask the government to subsidise the workforce?
“If we built housing in this country, we’d bring down the welfare bill, stimulate the economy, and create jobs.”
Having scored his first few points, Mr Jones went for the knockout blow. Although blocked in his first attempt to mention the disabled, he tried again: “There is a point that has to be made about the treatment of disabled people in this country, and there are two names I want to give Iain… Brian McArdle, 57 years old, paralysed down one side, blind in one eye; he couldn’t speak. He died one day after being found ‘fit for work’ by Atos. Another example – Karen Sherlock.”
For those who don’t know, Karen Sherlock was a desperately ill woman, suffering from kidney failure, whose Employment and Support Allowance was cut off by Iain Duncan Smith’s minions. She died on June 8 this year, apparently of a heart attack, after an operation was cancelled. Read her story here.
This is where IDS lost it. Irately wagging his finger in Mr Jones’s general direction, he barked: “We’ve heard a lot from you. I didn’t hear you screaming about two and a half million people who were parked, nobody saw them, for over 10 years, not working, no hope, no aspiration. We are changing their lives; I’m proud of doing that. Getting them off-benefit is what we’re going to do.”
What he didn’t say was, “We’re changing their lives for the better.” As for getting them off-benefit – that’s a threat, if there are no jobs for them to take (and there aren’t – or at least, not enough).
And that was the end of the programme. Owen Jones later commented that, as chairman David Dimbleby was finishing up, “a protestor yelled about Atos and left – not sure that will come across because it descended into total chaos.” It didn’t, but it would be interesting to know what their point was.
Jamie Laverty made a point about it: “Woman shouting about Atos on BBCQT – how symbolic. The BBC fails to listen to the people whilst giving the Tories a soapbox.”
Then came the verdict. Nathaniel Tapley saw through the Secretary of State straight away: “IDS thinks it’s unreasonable for anyone to receive more than £35,000 pa from the state. And claimed £98,000 in expenses last year.” Hypocritical? I think I’ve written a blog about that…
‘The UK today’ tweeted: “Only the wealthy moan about benefits for the poor but don’t complain about the bankers and shareholders who created the present problem.”
Mark Ferguson of LabourList tried sticking to the thrust of the question: “Shockingly, London MP IDS seems totally ignorant about the impact of his own government’s housing benefit cap in the capital. Astonishing.
“Build more houses, lower the cost of renting, save money on benefits. It’s not f*cking rocket science is it?”
To Iain Duncan Smith, it is. He’s a Tory, Mark! You’re suggesting they lay out money on public works. They don’t do that! Their plan is to hold money back, and use it to say they’ve balanced the books a bit more. Pointless and utterly unworkable in the long-term, but it is what it is.
Jenny Landreth made the point that’s been on everyone’s mind about housing benefit: “Do benefit claimants profit from their rent being paid? No. Landlords do. They are the reason the rents are high. HELLO?” Exactly right. Perhaps it’s time to change its title to one that is more appropriate, like Landlord’s Benefit?
John McDonnell MP applauded Mr Jones: “Well done for getting the tragedy of Mr McArdle and barbarity of Atos on the record. We must never forget or forgive this cruelty.”
Finally, there came the comments on the cabinet member himself.
Zoe Williams, Guardian columnist, tweeted: “‘we’ve heard a lot from you’ IDS says to Owen jones. Only narrowly avoids adding ‘oik’.”
Matthew Walker added: “IDS has finger wagging rant at Owen Jones – he just needed to finish with ‘you need a damn good thrashing, lad’ and it would have been perfect.”
Simplem+ths: “All that remained was for IDS to say ‘shut it you fu#@ing pleb best you learn your [email protected]#ing place'”.
And the amusingly-named ‘Jeremy Twunt’ concluded: “You just know IDS wanted to call Owen Jones a pleb back there…”
Isobel Waby went for the jugular: “Iain Duncan Smith is an insult to the British people. How dare he undermine the British people, insulting our sick, disabled, unemployed kids?
“He should be sacked NOW… MPs’ inhumanity to the less fortunate.”
And Gracie Samuels made the most telling point: “The lying bastard he’s killing people, BBCQT, and we were not allowed to discuss it.”
But Diana Foster put viewers’ fear into words when she tweeted: “Disability hatecrime up, IDS gets final say – giving impression he’s whiter than white and no disabled people are affected by reform. Disgusting.”
Well, if Mr Smith (I never call him ‘Duncan Smith’ because that kind of attempt at a double-barrelled name is nothing other than pretentious) is reading this, I wonder if he’ll still be putting that appearance in the ‘plus’ column. The net result, according to the public is that he is ignorant, cruel, an insult to the British people, inhuman, a lying bastard and disgusting. Wag your finger at that, Iain!
Since IDS got the last word on television, let’s give the last word here to Owen Jones: “Blimey, thanks everyone. But what a a shame that stating the bleeding obvious on telly is such a revolutionary act.”
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