Iain Duncan Smith, the Department of Works and Pensions Secretary, provoked equal measures of fury and bemusement a number of weeks ago after claiming disabled people often come up to him to praise him over his welfare reforms. Rather than praise, the increasingly belligerent and oafish Welfare Minister arguably had become one of the biggest hindrances in the lives of most disabled people within the UK. Not only by causing disabled people a great amount of fear, anger and distress over his continuous roll out of brutal welfare reform, but welfare reform that either intentionally or unintentionally would have (and already has in some cases) worked to reduce the independence of many disabled people. Certainly up to the point that some may have had to give up present employment if the proposed cuts to the personal independence payment (PIP) had been implemented - due to the loss of such payments that help towards mobility and transport costs.
Since 2010, IDS and his disreputable PR machine within the Department of Work and Pensions have worked tirelessly to generate a myth that the UK has an overwhelming 'sickness and benefit culture'. One that imagines a widespread 'dependence' on the state by the paying of 'over-generous' welfare payments, payments which 'pay more than employment itself' and a situation that thereby 'decreases the motivation to work'. It's a system that was said to cost 'hard working families' billions of pounds in taxpayer's money and primarily because of the 'laziness' and 'fraud' of others - chiefly sick people, disabled people and the unemployed.
That was the crux of his argument, a full frontal attack on both abled-bodied and disabled people who are not currently within employment, for whatever reason. It was an attack that used relatively rare instances of welfare abuse within the UK and blew them out of all proportion in order sell welfare cuts to the public. Deftly creating a 'moral panic', and arguably in order to divert attention away from 2008 recession, a situation caused primarily by the widespread excesses of the global banking system. A win-win situation for a political party who have been consistently criticised since its inception for being a party solely for the idle rich and the wealthy - the very people who caused the 2008 financial global recession.
I'm quite sure that IDS cannot be so out of touch with reality that he actually believed his own lies over welfare, and this overgrown bully will certainly be aware not only of the persistent criticism that his 'austerity' welfare reforms have caused, but the deaths that such reforms are also undoubtedly responsible for. So, it is certainly good news that this callous and highly dangerous individual has finally found the decency to remove himself from the post as the Government's Work and Pensions Secretary - before he causes further damage.
But the question now seems to be why?
Last week, further cuts to disability benefit proposed in the recent budget review were completely blown out of the water with unprecedented hostility from various Conservative 'back-bench' MP's. Coming just days after most Conservative MP's had already willingly voted to remove £30 per week from the pockets of disabled people, these noises of discontent were a welcome surprise. The main trust of hostility to a further £20 to £130 a week cut in aid to disabled people came at a time when income tax decreases were being delivered to Britain's richer members of society - and therefore a case of robbing the poor to pay for the rich. Clearly, one step too far for many moderate right wingers. Government therefore began to quickly retreat amid the fury, with some Conservative MP's even threatening to derail the Government's budget plans in their entirety if the proposed cuts were not dropped or at least scaled down. This was followed not far behind by IDS's resignation letter, a resignation that seemed at the time to have been triggered solely by the Governments unexpected retreat from its continual abuse of Britain's disabled (for the time being, that is).
However, IDS has also quickly moved to distance himself from the welfare reforms that he has willingly implemented since 2010, and so much so, that he now appears to be in complete denial of his role in their creation - indicating that he was only obeying orders. Now, where have we heard that one before? In his resignation letter, IDS claims that he resigned primarily because he was put into a bit of a corner by Chancellor George Osborne and Prime Minister David Cameron into making further cuts towards disability welfare that he didn't want to make, and certainly not to fund tax cuts for the rich.
However, this rather new and unlikely convert to 'socialism' has never publically complained about his welfare cuts to both Britain's disabled and unemployed before, over the past 6 years in Government and despite all the criticism generated towards his policies. Instead he has staunchly and aggressively defended welfare reform, deliberately used dodgy statistics to mislead the British population, and has repeatedly been criticized by the Government's own statistics authority for misleading parliament. He has been belligerent in blocking access to information over the exact numbers of deaths linked to benefit cuts, and has constantly accused those who highlighted such deaths (including the Coroner and families of the deceased) as being politically motivated, opportunistic 'scaremongers'. Which is undoubtedly one reason why the Prime Minister has publically admitted that he is 'puzzled' by the content of IDS's resignation letter. I'm puzzled too.
So, just what are we to make of IDS's sudden growth of a conscience? Are we to be taken in by something that seems little more than just an obvious panic manoeuvre? A man perhaps so concerned that his own party was preparing to stab him in the back over hostility to the most aggressive policies ever witnessed towards disabled people within a Western country, that he though it wiser to jump ship before he was pushed? A man who may end up at some point in the future facing a public enquiry into the aggressive use of benefit sanctions and associated deaths. I for one smell a rat, and not just the one in such an obvious hurry to leave a sinking ship.
Only obeying orders?
One of the main reasons I have been against welfare reform towards disability and unemployment was not only because they were unnecessary and unfair, but because they were also so obviously doomed to failure. Welfare is supposed to provide a safety net for people falling upon hard times, simply removing that safety net doesn't mean that the numbers of people falling upon hard times will get any less. It will just kill people off - literally.
Therefore, at the basis of any welfare reform the reformers need to have the interests of Britain's most vulnerable at heart. Unfortunately, IDS and his band of merry pirates have never had the interests of Britain's most vulnerable at heart, only the interests of the wealthy. Hence the odious proposals to end PIP for Britain's disabled while at the same time reducing the amount of tax top UK earners pay. A highly simplistic way of punishing the perceived laziness of the poor while simultaneously rewarding the 'positive behaviour' of work.
Bizarrely, Iain Duncan Smith had even compared his welfare reforms at one point to the historic struggle to end slavery - in which he had delusions of helping Britain's unemployed and disabled to 'break free' from their chains of laziness by forcing them off their bums. A simple choice of either going to work or not going to work, where not being in work meant starvation. But perhaps the only big surprise to come out of this hideous fiasco is the length of time IDS was allowed to carry on with this dangerous nonsense, bumbling his way from one DWP disaster to another, while wasting Billions of taxpayer's money in the process.
Firstly, his flagship Universal Credit programme came under attack from official auditors who accused the DWP of 'weak management' and attempting complex reform without a detailed plan. Not to mention the implementation of a botched IT system that had to be written off, costing tens of millions of pounds. Secondly, the costs of welfare reform were found to be far greater than any savings. Thirdly, Work Capability Assessments fell disastrously behind schedule due to a lack of staff and the sheer weight of applications. Fourth, despite the hype, The DWP's Work Programme failed to get more disabled people into work (less than 1%). And finally, in 2014 a leaked internal review revealed that the DWP was struggling to meet it's projected 'efficiency savings', a failure that the taxpayer will also have to pick up the tab for. There are many other infamous 'cock-ups' that IDS has presided over (such as the closing down of 'Remploy' in 2013) but far too many to mention here.
However, we now have an IDS apparently scurrying away from the dark forces of the DWP that he helped to create, screaming 'not my fault, they made me do it'. Perhaps we should take much more notice of a Guardian Newspaper report that revealed that IDS had certainly been complaining recently to friends that the Government were indeed trying to 'stich' him up over 'in-house' hostility to cuts to PIP. Thereby, prompting a resignation that some within the Right Wing press are even portraying as an 'Honourable' one.
In the House of Commons, MP's address each other by the term 'Honourable' all the time. However, there is nothing honourable about many of our self-interested, career minded, money grabbing MP's, even if some of them seem to be belatedly developing a conscience. There is certainly nothing honourable about spending 6 years overseeing brutal and unnecessary welfare reform that has caused complete devastation amongst Britain's poorest and most vulnerable. Perhaps, we should reflect on those comments when this latest round of Government in-house back-biting has finally subsided, and IDS has been offered yet another lucrative post within Government where he can cause further mayhem, death and destruction in. Or perhaps a place in the House of Lords - which would likely suit this most arrogant and pompous oaf even more so. However, these political shenanigans are not the first time such events have occurred and nor will they be the last, coming undoubtedly from a result of two factors colliding.
Firstly, Britain's ruling classes have a traditional fear of Britain's poor, a poor that is not only viewed as lazy, but potentially dangerous to the money making interests of the wealthy - if not governed with an iron fist. IDS's policies were therefore much more about shoring up right wing political ideology than they ever were about saving taxpayers money - hence the squandering of Billions of state revenue over the last 6 years. IDS and his associates thought they could change the behaviour of the unemployed, the sick and the disabled, simply by bullying them away from welfare. Welfare that was seen as only encouraging people not to 'work'. However, there has never been valid evidence presented that the 'benefit-culture' that IDS has spoken about on numerous occasions has ever existed, except in the minds of IDS, David Cameron and George Osborne. People not exactly living in the real world like the rest of us.
Secondly, people receiving benefits live a life that is predominately one merely of meagre existence, and there is nobody within the UK living a life of luxury upon welfare. Additionally, if work doesn't appear to 'pay' by not getting people out of poverty, then that is because Britain's businesses pay very low wages (especially when compared to the rest of Europe). Wages which are then topped up by the payment of welfare to Britain's working poor - a form of state subsidy to Britain's employers, including its wealthiest. The implementation of the 'bedroom tax', cuts to unemployment benefit, cuts to disability benefit or sickness benefit will therefore only ever work to create further poverty, and push people further into the margins of society.
If Government want to encourage more people into work, then employers need to pay more, as well as dropping their discriminatory practices - arguably one of the major barriers stopping disabled people and people over 50 finding adequate employment within the UK. Until that happens, Britain's benefit bill will only continue to rise - which is no fault of Britain's poor, but the ones who put themselves in charge of the system in the first place.