April 28, 2013


Iain Duncan Smith: how Margaret Thatcher inspired my welfare reforms (Patrick Hennessy, 27 Apr 2013, The Telegraph)

Even Lady Thatcher's government did not attempt the root-and-branch welfare reform that Mr Duncan Smith is introducing. He is, in many people's eyes, the ideal man for the job: a former Conservative leader who was effectively ditched by his own party in 2003 without even fighting a general election, but who found political redemption through a drive to fight poverty and reform the welfare system which began when he toured the Easterhouse estate in Glasgow more than a decade ago.

It is virtually impossible to imagine him doing any other government job than his current post. "I don't have any particular ambitions...I see [politics] as a vocation, not a career," he says.

His work on welfare reform is clearly underpinned by a sense of morality which must surely derive from his religious beliefs (he is sometimes cited as the Cabinet's most senior Roman Catholic).  [...]

Tomorrow (MON) sees the launch of pilot projects (the DWP prefers calling them "pathways") of Universal Credit, the single welfare payment that will, in time, wrap up all the main working-age benefits. It is the flagship change, which has seen Mr Duncan Smith come under fire for a imposing a gradualist approach, amid predictions it will be a major failure because of IT problems.

He is unapologetic about moving slowly, claiming that Labour's big-bang approach to introducing its own major welfare change, tax credits, made the system a "disaster" which had to be relaunched several times and which was crippled by fraud and error.

The "big cultural change" by contrast under Universal Credit is that people have to sign a "claim of commitment" under which they will pledge to make themselves available for work, search for a job, take interviews, take the first job that becomes available and "work hard." If they fail to do this, they can lose their benefits for up to three years on a sliding scale.

Mr Duncan Smith says: "People will know from day one, for the first time ever, what's expected of them. They'll have a sheet of paper which is their contract.... We want to say to people, you're claiming unemployment benefit but you're actually in work paid for by the state: you're in work to find work. That's your job from now on: to find work."

As Universal Credit rolls out, other work goes on, of course. Mr Duncan Smith is charged with finding an extra £6.5billion of savings from his department's budget for the year 2015-16, most of which will be after the next general election. Cabinet colleagues, themselves under pressure to make substantial savings, have publicly claimed welfare should be pruned even more to spare cuts to the military, the police or the justice system.

"Instead of always talking about it, it would be nice if occasionally they'd talk about what we've actually achieved," Mr Duncan Smith says, in a grumble at militant ministers whose numbers include Theresa May, the Home Secretary, Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary and Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary.

One battle which it appears Mr Duncan Smith might have lost is his fight to end the "universal benefits" regime which sees a range of payments - such help a winter fuel allowance and free bus passes and TV licences - made to all pensioners, no matter how well off they are. In the past he has described this as an "anomaly" and a "matter for debate" and has suggested they could be up for review when the Conservatives write their manifesto for the 2015 general election.

The Third Way policy consensus is universal.

Posted by at April 28, 2013 8:53 AM

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