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In an interview on LBC radio, Iain Duncan Smith displayed a startling ignorance of the social security benefits he has been administering, and cutting, for the last four years.
Many people were left wondering if he had ever actually familiarised himself with these benefits, before he embarked on what he himself has described as the biggest shake up in sixty years.
Firstly, Mr. Duncan Smith questioned whether approximately two thirds of people affected by the bedroom tax are actually disabled. Yet this figure comes from the equality impact assessment conducted by his own department prior to the introduction of the bedroom tax. Mr. Duncan Smith said that these people were ‘self-declared’ as disabled, and that nobody had checked whether they did in fact have a disability, implying, as he so often has in the past, that some people claim to be disabled but aren’t.
Let’s look at what the Department for Work and Pensions own equality impact assessment
says. Citing a figure of 63 per cent having some form of disability, it says: "The disabled group includes cases who do not currently have difficulties with daily activities but who have in the past or are expected to in the future or would do if they were not able to control symptoms with medication." (para 43)
Perhaps these are the cases Mr. Duncan Smith seems to believe are not really disabled.
But the assessment goes on to say: "If disability is defined as having any long-standing illness, disability or infirmity that leads to a significant difficulty with one or more areas of the individual’s life, the equivalent figures to those in the table above would be that 370,000 (56 per cent) of working age social rented sector HB claimants or their partners affected by the size criteria would be classified as disabled" (para 44)
Presumably these people, 56 per cent, are disabled enough to meet Mr. Duncan Smith’s own personal criteria of who can be accepted as genuinely disabled.
In an attempt to further question the 63 per cent figure, Mr. Duncan Smith mentioned that, ‘About a third are in receipt of something like Disability Living Allowance, which of itself is a payment to help support housing costs."
This statement left many people speechless. Disability Living Allowance, the budget for which Mr. Duncan Smith has cut by 20 per cent, has absolutely no relation to housing costs. Again, we need only look to his own department’s website to establish the facts.
Disability Living Allowance (now being replaced by Personal Independence Payments) has two components, one for mobility, one for care. As the DWP website explains: "You can get Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for adults if your disability or health condition means one or both of the following are true: you need help looking after yourself and/or you have walking difficulties." It is most certainly not "to help support housing costs" as the Secretary of State confidently asserted.
To have a minister in charge of any area of policy when they do not know or understand the basic facts of matters they are dealing with is worrying. To have such a minister in charge of policies which have a major impact on the precarious existence of people who are already struggling is dangerously irresponsible.
© 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. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden