Sunday, 20 March 2016

IDS & Welfare Reform

I detect a spin machine.

On Friday evening Ian Duncan Smith (aka IDS) resigned because the government's budget had made huge cuts to the money spent on the poorest in society, supposedly to 'balance the books' as part of 'austerity', yet simultaneously cut taxes paid by the wealthiest people in the country.

No sooner had the word spread about this than suddenly speculation appeared that maybe his resignation had nothing to do with benefit cuts but was instead about the EU referendum.

I wonder who planted that idea? Surely not the embarrassed government, caught with their hands in the till giving the country's wealth to their millionaire buddies?

Although IDS is known  as a euro-sceptic, his main apparent passion for the past decade or more has been social policy. In particular he has displayed a burning desire to end what he saw as welfare-dependency: the tendency of the welfare state to institutionalise poverty, simultaneously giving people just enough to live on whilst blocking their ability to improve their lot through working.

Although the welfare state has long been a bugbear of the far-right, there are also people from other traditions who have been very critical of the way it is applied in practice: tending to reinforce poverty rather than eliminating it. One high profile critic of welfare dependency has long been John Bird, co-founder of The Big Issue, from a very different background to Ian Duncan Smith.

The trouble with IDS's ideas about welfare reform, it seems to me, has been that he seems to be singularly politically inept, that either he or his department have been callously uncaring about the effects of the changes they have introduced, and that the widespread scale of the reforms he was advocating require more funding in the short term, not less.

At a time when Britain was massively in debt that was unlikely to happen; under a conservative government committed to cutting taxes it was a non-starter. So IDS was trying to bring in changes requiring more money whilst repeatedly cutting costs ("salami slicing" as he put it). No wonder he failed; no wonder government policies created such suffering.

To me it looks as though he had bought into the need to try to keep doing this, hopefully whilst wrestling with his conscience over the human cost of doing so. Then George Osborne made it completely clear that the government is only interested in cutting taxes for the rich, not in improving the lot of the poorest. I may be naive, but I think that is what finally forced IDS into resignation.

I also think this is a government of liars and hypocrites. Just my opinion, of course.

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