Why did IDS keep his job despite welfare reform fiasco?

KerenThere were an awful lot of people hoping that Iain Duncan Smith would be defenestrated in last week’s cabinet shuffle. If Michael Gove is considered so toxic that he had to be removed before the next election, how on earth did IDS escape with his career intact? There cannot be another politician so loathed, except perhaps his sidekick Esther McVey.

I suppose the answer lies in who Gove alienates. The Tories are chasing the votes of those interested in education, be they parents or professionals and that adds up to a whole lot of people potentially turned off him. However, they don’t expect votes from the recipients of social security, rendering them useless, thus there was no electoral gain in sacking IDS.

Come reshuffle day I waited patiently to hear the good news through all the tweets that dripped out of the Cabinet Office (whatever happened to dignified announcements on the steps of Number 10 – Twitter reduces everything to the level of gossip). My hopes were finally dashed when the prime minister marked the end of business by attempting to justify putting a former Shell worker in charge of the environment and handing equalities to someone whose religious beliefs caused her to vote against gay marriage.

As the poor, the sick and the disabled tried to come to terms with IDS still being in his job, the social media of this much-abused subsection of society cried out with disbelief: how can it be possible? The two most common theories are that either no one else is fool enough to take over the DWP because it would involve unravelling the colossal mess that’s been created, or IDS has some hold over Cameron that the rest of us don’t know about.

Sadly, I’m inclined to believe that the unsettling truth is that Cameron is very happy with what IDS has done.

Cameron’s happy that there are over 700,000 people in the queue for a work capability assessment (WCA), with waiting times now approaching a year. That’s three quarters of a million people not counted in the jobless figures and many of them receiving no benefits as they wait.

He must be happy with what the cost will be when people finally qualify and have to be back-paid to the start of their claim as that bombshell will probably fall during the next parliament and he can jeer across the Commons and blame Labour (excuse that little assumption there). The new report into Employment and Support Allowance from the work and pensions committee reveals that the whole WCA process remains ‘gravely flawed’ and not fit for purpose.

Cameron’s happy that fewer than one in six disabled people who have applied for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) have had their claim assessed and waiting times are now up to a year, according to the DWP’s own figures. The public accounts committee isn’t happy about the ‘fiasco’ of PIP implementation, but Cameron doesn’t have time to worry about (or respond to) them, he’s busy pleasing voters.

Cameron’s happy that two-thirds of PIP claims are refused, because the purpose of PIP is to reduce Disability Living Allowance caseloads and expenditure by 20%. So one in five people will lose their benefits despite the DWPs own statistics showing that less than 0.7% of all benefit claims are fraudulent.

Cameron’s happy about the plan to introduce compulsory therapy before allowing benefits for people with mental health problems. And presumably made happier that waiting times of up to two years for NHS counselling services mean they can save lots more money while sick people suffer without support.

Cameron’s happy that two-thirds of people affected by the bedroom tax are disabled, (despite his oft repeated mistake that they are exempt). And he’s happy that only 4.5% of people have managed to downsize while the rest have had to cut back on food and heating to cover the increased costs leading to 66% being in arrears with their rent (which bars them from moving home) and 15% in danger of eviction. Burying the latest damning report on reshuffle day didn’t fool anyone.

Cameron must be happy with the failure of the Work Programme and the rise in food banks around the country – after all if the poor are being fed by the charitable, then there’s no need to give them benefits.

Cameron must be happy that the DWP has spent millions on lawyers fighting the release of old reports into Universal Credit and publication of the numbers who have died after being found fit for work in a WCA assessment. The figures in 2012 showed that deaths rose from 32 to 73 per week so the DWP solved this problem by ceasing to record them.

Cameron must be happy that the DWP will write off £130m on useless IT developments for Universal Credit. Some £40m has already gone and the rest will follow within five years. I must admit I find it hard to see what makes him happy about this – maybe it’s all those jobs in the IT sector that the government seems to be singlehandedly keeping afloat?

To compound all this happiness the DWP has just published the latest independent report into benefit sanctions, which reveals that the most vulnerable are the hardest hit, largely for not understanding the system. It reports that ‘in 2013, over one million referrals for sanction decisions were made from mandatory schemes’. And that ‘the remit (of this review) only covers around a third of those jobseekers who are sanctioned or at risk of being sanctioned’. This makes Cameron happy because those sanctioned are no longer counted as unemployed.

Meanwhile the greatest economic minds in the country can’t fathom out why productivity hasn’t risen despite falling unemployment. As well as a million sanctioned claimants being disappeared off the count, they might also look into the remarkable rise in self-employment (up 312,000 on last year) boosted by Work Programme advisors telling people to fraudulently register as self-employed to claim working tax credits instead of JSA. That way the provider gets paid for the ‘job’ outcome, the claimant receives more than the dole and is no longer harassed by the job centre and unemployment appears to fall even further.

Cameron must be very happy with all of this, or he would have sacked IDS wouldn’t he? Because if he’s too weak to sack someone he’s unhappy with, then what’s he doing running the country?

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Keren Suchecki

Keren Suchecki lives in Bristol and works in community regeneration

3 Comments

  • Sulu

    A man who hands out Maggie Thatcher books as presents to foreign governments is of course happy. By causing #DWPchaos they have the opportunity to manipulate the figures to make it look like the country is economically recovering and gain votes – most people aren’t aware of what is happening to the disabled or benefits people – the majority are swept up by the hate propaganda. It’s Thatcherism Tory policy of course Cameron is happy with IDS – only a few and those caught up in the attack see what is really happening

  • Baldassaro

    “Cameron doesn’t have time to worry about (or respond to) them, he’s busy pleasing voters”. Isn’t that what most politicians do? What would you suggest as an alternative – annoying voters? pleasing people who don’t vote? Neither seems a recipe for political survival…

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