Posts Tagged ‘Iain Duncan Smith’

The omnishambles is back

26/10/2013, 03:20:32 PM

by Michael Dugher

Across a wide-ranging front, just a cursory glance through this weekend’s newspapers suggest that so many of the government’s policies look to be in real trouble. The omnishambles is back.  This time it’s coupled with a planned modernisation which is being rolled back at a pace. It has been clear for a long time that Cameron is hopelessly out of touch. But his government looks increasingly like it is out of answers to the big challenges facing Britain.  On so many of the policies which were meant to define David Cameron’s government, the wheels have come off.

Let’s start with education. We already know that there is a crisis of a lack of school places in many parts of the country and that class sizes above 30 are making a big comeback.  But David Cameron’s centrepiece reform was the introduction of free schools, yet in the last two weeks we have had two deeply concerning examples of the danger they pose if increased freedoms are not complemented by checks and balances as Labour proposes.

The Islamic al Medinah free school in Derby was described by a scathing Ofsted report as not being “adequately monitored or supported” and for having inexperienced teachers who had not been provided with proper training.  It was branded “in chaos” and “dysfunctional”, with pupils being segregated and given the same work regardless of ability.  On Friday we had reports that Michael Gove’s department sat for months on a report alleging financial irregularities worth more than £80,000 at flagship Kings Academy in Bradford.


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The foolishness of “fairness”

19/08/2013, 07:28:08 PM

by Sam Fowles

Iain Duncan Smith has said he won’t apologise for trying to make our welfare state “fairer”. But “fairness” is both an impossible and irresponsible goal in public policy.

The “silly season” is upon us and, unlike Labour (who appear to have collectively gone on holiday to another dimension, so deafening has been their media silence) Ian Duncan Smith has decided to use it to sell (or resell) his welfare cap. Unfortunately, while – in keeping with the season – the policy itself is silly in the extreme, its effects will be terrifyingly serious.

But the welfare cap is merely symptomatic of a wider misconception, one which is endemic in both public policy and public discourse: that public policy can or should ever be “fair”. “Fairness” is an unachievable goal and aiming at it only leads to bad policy making. It encourages a skewed view of the role of government and the function of the individual in society. A government which aspires to make “fair” policy will always be reduced to distributing different shades of unfairness. A better conceptual framework for public policy is based, not on fairness but responsibility. Government should be a facilitator, allowing citizens to discharge their intrinsic responsibility to society.

The welfare cap offers an excellent illustration of the contradiction inherent in the idea of public policy “fairness”. Duncan Smith claims that he is eliminating the unfairness that some people on benefits have a higher income than the average working family. The power of this argument lies in its truth. If one is in the position of a lower middle class working man (Mr A) then it is not fair that you must pay taxes so that some people can live, without working themselves, on a larger income than your own family.

However if one takes a different perspective, for example, a child (Child B) in a large family whose father (the sole earner) has just become a victim of the civil service or army job cuts then it is unfair that your quality of life should plummet dramatically (perhaps just as you are taking A-levels, thus jeopardising your university place) because of this government’s attempts to impose the one ideology they can remember from their Oxford politics lectures. The total income of a family (regardless of the number of children or any special needs they may have) will be limited to £500 per week which will include, among others, carers allowance, child benefit and severe disablement allowance. The cap is patently unfair on those, such as the severely disabled, who require a larger income to maintain a basic quality of life.

When considered on this micro level, public policy will always be unfair on someone. The public debate is often distorted by a focus on the outlying data; the super rich or willfully unemployed. But this often distracts from the real impacts of policy on the majority of people which means we rarely get to see the big picture. When the public debate about welfare focuses on Mick Philpott it presents the misleading idea that the welfare cap is simply a matter of preventing abuse of the system. Actually it’s a matter of the government distributing unfairness.


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The right Labour attack on Lansley’s health bill

20/02/2012, 07:00:41 AM

by Jonathan Todd

“The trick is to keep doing outrageous things. There’s no point passing some scandalous piece of legislation and then giving everyone time to get worked up about it. You have to get right in there and top it off with something worse, before the public have had the chance to work out what’s hit them. The thing about the British conscience, you see, is that it really has no more capacity than … a primitive home computer, if you like. It can only hold two or three things in its memory at a time.”

Thus spoke Henry Wilshire, cut-out evil 1980s Tory of Jonathan Coe’s What a Carve Up. And Wilshire was half right. But only when certain conditions hold.

The conditions are that the central principle of the reform enjoys both popular mandate and sympathy.

This brings to mind, not for the first time, the contrasting fortunes of Iain Duncan Smith and Andrew Lansley. The first is at the peak of his career, the second fights for his.

The latter is taking forward legislation that voters did not vote for, while the former is doing broadly what the last Conservative manifesto promised. If we wish the next Labour government to be transformative, our manifesto must, to borrow a supposed Cameroon maxim, seemingly forgotten by Lansley, roll its pitch.

Pitch rolling should connect proposed policy programmes with popular values. Duncan Smith’s core argument is that work should pay more than welfare. This resonates so strongly with popular values that he has reduced much of the public to Wilshire’s 1980s’ home computers.


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We learnt from our mistakes. The Tories are set to emulate them.

04/04/2011, 12:11:44 PM

by John Woodcock

The mythical cost free, universally popular, radical ideas box has been mentioned in this column before.

Though it was coined by Thick of It scriptwriters satirising the last Labour government, the box is enjoying a new lease of life under the new Conservative-led regime.

Iain Duncan Smith whipped it out live on Sky yesterday morning when discussing his proposals to merge the basic and state second pensions, due to be set out in the House of Commons today. (As an aside, I am not sure Labour in government was ever able to get away with quite the level of blatant pre-announcing to the media that ministers now routinely carry out before Parliamentary statements). (more…)

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Somebody tell the government that some disabled people are actually, er, disabled

17/02/2011, 07:00:48 AM

by Sally Bercow

The disability living allowance (DLA) is forecast to cost the taxpayer £12 billion this year, the same as the department of transport’s entire annual budget. So briefed the Whitehall machine as the government launched its public consultation on DLA reform in December (the consultation closes tomorrow).

Doubtless, the figure of £12 billion is correct, but before you rush to join the chorus of Daily Mail-minded souls and proclaim your horror, bear in mind that we spend three times more on defence than we do on disabled people (around £37 billion a year), that renewing the UK’s Trident nuclear deterrent will cost around £20 billion, that we have spent over £20 billion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t spend those sums on defence, Trident or our international adventures (well maybe I am  – but that’s a whole different column), but the point is that it’s all relative.

So while £12 billion for disability benefit is a hell of a sum, maybe, just maybe, we spend that much because – and hold onto your hats here – there is actually a genuine need. Could it be that, with a small minority of dishonourable exceptions, the people who receive DLA really are deserving of it? That they actually rely on the help DLA provides, so that they can cover the higher costs of living, care and mobility that come hand in hand with their disability? After all, there is no evidence of widespread fraud – indeed the 0.5% (£200 million) fraud rate for DLA, while unacceptable, is nevertheless the lowest of any benefit. (more…)

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Sunday News Review

07/11/2010, 08:03:33 AM

Norman Tebbit mark two

Iain Duncan Smith will tomorrow unveil ‘compulsory community placements’ in an attempt to stop people living on benefits for years without bothering to look for work. The ‘Workfare UK’ project will be targeted at tens of thousands of people suspected of sabotaging attempts to make them work. But Labour MPs condemned the scheme. One said: ‘This sounds like slave labour.’ The scheme is also likely to run into fierce opposition from some Liberal Democrat MPs.

Under Mr Duncan Smith’s anti-scroungers blueprint, employment office chiefs will be given the power to order the long-term jobless to take part in four-week mandatory work schemes. The Government has not decided how much people on ‘community placements’ will be paid but it is understood the figure will be between £30 and £40 a week – the equivalent to £1 an hour, one sixth of the minimum wage. – Mail on Sunday

Last night the shadow work and pensions secretary, Douglas Alexander, suggested government policy on job creation was reducing people’s chances of finding work: “The Tories have just abolished the future jobs fund, which offered real work and real hope to young people. If you examine the spending review then changes such as cuts to working tax credit are actually removing incentives to get people into work. What they don’t seem to get about their welfare agenda is that without work it won’t work.” – Observer

Coulson on the brink

David Cameron faced renewed pressure over his decision to retain Andy Coulson as his communications chief last night after the former tabloid editor was questioned by police over allegations of phone-hacking at the News of the World. Labour raised the stakes when the party’s deputy leader, Harriet Harman, said it was now time for the prime minister to take a detailed interest in the controversy, rather than brushing aside claims about one of his closest aides. Downing Street confirmed that Coulson attended a meeting with Metropolitan police officers voluntarily on Thursday and was interviewed as a witness. He was not cautioned or arrested. – Observer

The Met’s attempt to help David Cameron’s chief spinner, Andy Coulson, in his brave battle to overcome amnesia (mercifully limited to the phone hacking that went on when he was editor of the News of the World) has not impressed Tom Watson. The stalwart Brownite MP smells a rat. “People will think it curious that the story [of his interview by the police at his solicitor’s office] was put out by Downing Street late on a Friday night when the BBC was on strike,” he observes. – Independent

Farrelly to face charges

A man involved in a brawl with Labour MP Paul Farrelly is to make an official complaint to police. Newspaper seller Bjorn Hurrell was left ‘bloodied and bruised’ after the incident in which he was allegedly hit by Mr Farrelly in a late-night tussle near a packed Commons bar.

Last night it was claimed the MP told Mr Hurrell ‘if we weren’t on the parliamentary estate, I’d punch you in the face’ moments before the fight. Speaking publicly for the first time about the incident, Mr Hurrell last night told The Mail on Sunday: ‘I am intending to make a complaint to the police and to instruct lawyers to pursue civil damages. I wish to make no further statement until I have obtained legal advice.’ – Mail on Sunday

The incident took place on Thursday evening as Mr Farrelly was entertaining guests from the Parliamentary Rugby Club at the Sports and Social bar, in the Palace of Westminster. The MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme claimed he was confronted by a man in a corridor near the club at around 10pm on Thursday, after reprimanding him about his behaviour. Mr Hurrell, who delivers newspapers in the Palace of Westminster and has had a full parliamentary pass for more than 20 years, told friends he had been enjoying a karaoke night he helped his mother organise in the Sports and Social bar when Mr Farrelly assaulted him.  – Telegraph

Miliband to the rescue

Ed Miliband has leaped to the defence of a DJ sacked from a Scottish radio station for taking part in a naked prank Robin Galloway and his producer Barrie Hodge parted company with Real Radio after the presenter filmed Hodge streaking naked behind Miliband while the politician was being interviewed in the Glasgow studios.

Miliband, who had his back to the incident, was not aware of what was going on at the time, and said the pair should not have lost their jobs. A spokesman for Scottish Labour said: “Senior staff from Ed’s office yesterday spoke to the station manager to say he thought they should not lose their jobs. – The Scotsman

Brown to battle on

Gordon Brown has quashed speculation that he will quit as an MP. The former PM has told allies he will stay in Parliament at least until the next election in 2015. He has already turned down new Labour leader Ed Miliband’s offer of a peerage and several lucrative jobs to concentrate on constituency and charity work. He told the Sunday Mirror: “Since the election I have been spending a lot of time with my constituents so it felt quite natural that I’d be talking about a Fife issue. But it was a surprise to me so many MPs were there.” – Mirror

Another selection goes wrong

A police probe has been launched into a complaint about fraud in the run-up to the selection in a Middlesbrough ward of Labour candidates for local government elections next year. The Labour Party has also launched an investigation into allegations of irregularities. The party has suspended the selection process for candidates in the ward as a result of the investigations. The police and Labour Party investigations are both focused on the town’s University Ward. – Middlesbrough Gazette

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Child benefit cuts reduce Tory MP Margot James to radio gibberish

05/10/2010, 09:46:04 PM

Tonight George Osborne has written to Tory MPs to explain the cuts he announced to child benefit. It’s a good job. The ill thought out plans seem to be catching out Tory MPs from the PM down.

A red faced David Cameron, with watery eyes, struggled to explain how the announced reform was “fair”, to Sky’s Adam Boulton, hinting at other tax breaks that could level the playing field. Later he stonewalled Five News when asked what the tax breaks would be, offering a line which should inspire confidence in all parents:

“We’re only going to announce one measure at a time. You have to look at all the measures together”.

Iain Duncan Smith floundered in a similar fashion when questioned, saying: “Like all these things, that will all be smoothed out as and when we reach the transitional point”. Thanks for that Iain. You may as well have stayed quiet.

But the prize for the most confused Tory MP has to go to Margot James. The Stourbridge MP, who was elected in May, must have been delighted when she realised that the conference would be on her patch. What better opportunity to get in the local media than the whole conference jamboree coming to your backyard? (more…)

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On yer bike, Duncan Smith

28/06/2010, 11:10:18 AM

Work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, is a weak link in the Tory cabinet (for that is what it is). He is neither as clever as he thinks he is, nor as clever as he needs to be. Both of which he is too stupid to realise. He is a series of accidents which are starting to happen. (more…)

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Eugene Grant says the disabled should still have grounds for optimism.

14/06/2010, 11:51:24 AM

Helen Keller, the deafblind American radical, once said: “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope or confidence”. The first deafblind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree, Keller went on to become an accomplished author, well-travelled lecturer and prolific political activist.

The election feast is now behind us.  The first frenzies of the coalition’s honeymoon are done.  And yet, thus far, the Lib-Con coalition has offered little in the way of optimism for some of the most disadvantaged in our society: people with disabilities. On the contrary, the approach adopted by the new government appears tainted by cynicism.

First, the pledge from work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith to reassess all 2.6 million incapacity benefit (IB) claimants and move them onto other benefits like jobseeker’s allowance and employment and support allowance (ESA).  This is a thorny political issue, which isn’t necessarily regressive.


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