Ian Duncan Smith: smoke and mirrors over welfare reform

By Bernadette Meaden
February 23, 2013

As elements of the government’s Welfare Reform programme meet growing opposition, the Secretary of State comes under increasing pressure. Defeat in the Court of Appeal over Workfare and increasingly vocal opposition to the bedroom tax has seen Iain Duncan Smith stridently defending his policies.

This culminated in a disastrous interview with LBC’s James O’Brien this week. (listen or read a transcript here).

James O’Brien was unwilling to take Mr Duncan Smith’s assertions about Workfare as statements of fact, and had actually read the recent Court judgement in full. His challenging of the Secretary of State was so robust that Mr Duncan Smith let his evident contempt for benefit claimants show, frequently referring to people like Cait Reilly, a graduate in her early twenties, as ‘kids’.

(It is worth remembering that when David Cameron left University, a call from Buckingham Palace secured him his chosen job at Conservative Central Office, and when Mr Duncan Smith claimed unemployment benefit, he was not subjected to any of the pressures faced by claimants like Cait Reilly)

Eventually, when repeatedly asked why people working in a mult-million pound company like Poundland or Tesco were not simply paid a fair wage, he snapped, ‘She was paid for it, the tax payer was paying her for God’s sake!’ Apparently the taxpayer is not bound by the law regarding the minimum wage.

Days later, Mr Duncan Smith seems to have taken discreet steps to ensure more positive media coverage. Some campaigners against the bedroom tax were celebrating because the BBC’s Home Editor Mark Easton reported that he had spoken to Mr Duncan Smith about the bedroom tax, and he had indicated that perhaps some exceptions may be made for disabled people and their families. This despite the fact that the DWP has fought through the courts to make sure there are no exemptions for disabled people.

It was all very vague, no promises were made, but such is the anxiety surrounding the policy that the story was enough to spark excitement on social media, with premature talk of U-turns and rethinks.

Yet later that day, the DWP press office tweeted ‘No change in spare bedroom policy. As with all reforms, we will monitor closely as it comes in this April’.

Next day Channel Four’s Ciaran Jenkins confirmed ‘The DWP has told me there will be NO u-turn on #bedroomtax despite reports Iain Duncan Smith "instructed" officials to "look again". ITV also confirmed this. Yet for a while, the pressure had been reduced on Mr Duncan Smith. He had been portrayed as someone who was listening and open to reason, and attention had been drawn away from his Workfare disaster.

It is disturbing that the BBC appeared to have been so easily used to improve the image of a Minister in trouble. Why did Mr Duncan Smith choose to employ the BBC in this capacity? Is it because they now have an established track record of being the willing mouthpiece of the Coalition?

For a full Cumulative Impact Assessment of Welfare Reform, and if necessary a free vote on repeal of the Welfare Reform Act, please sign the WOW petition here.


© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor.

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