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Even Iain Duncan Smith’s critics can’t reject his welfare reforms

7 April 2014

Iain Duncan Smith’s speech today setting out the moral mission behind his welfare reforms (his series of interventions doing this was previewed in the Spectator at the start of this year) has attracted the usual criticism from Labour for having ‘nothing to say about the cost-of-living crisis’ and a programme ‘in complete disarray’.

The opposition has a point about the delivery of the reforms and the detail in some cases – it would be a fib to say Universal Credit has enjoyed a smooth ride, although some of its most nervous critics in government currently seem a little more optimistic – but what Labour does struggle to do is give any sense of a distinctive overall reform programme. That’s because it still supports Universal Credit in principle and accepts that it should have made greater efforts to reform welfare when in office. Even those who criticise the detail of the reforms accept that stasis is not an option. For example, while I’ve written about the problems with the design and delivery of the Work Capability Assessment, there is little to commend what came before these tests, which was Incapacity Benefit claimants receiving very little if any monitoring of their conditions.

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What’s interesting about the overall principle of the welfare reforms is that politicians in other countries are now taking an interest in replicating them. Duncan Smith visited the US in September 2013 for meetings with Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Paul Ryan and Todd Young about Universal Credit. The reforms in this country were based on the Wisconsin welfare reforms, but now Republicans are interested in using UC as a model for taking their own reforms further. Ryan praised the British welfare reforms in this interview in January (although he too described UC as having had ‘some hiccups and rough patches in implementing it’). Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, who has shared a platform with IDS on this issue, says the Work and Pensions Secretary ‘is showing policymakers the way to overhaul and reform a welfare reform system badly in need of modernisation… The results of what he is doing in Britain are an example to reformers worldwide – and of what we can achieve if we adopt his comprehensive, resolute and successful strategy’.

Duncan Smith also briefed a group of state workforce secretaries on the Work Capability Assessment and Incapacity Benefit to help with their advice on US disability benefits reform for Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee. DWP officials have also visited the US to help with this work in particular, and the executive director of the group also visited London.

Now, doubtless IDS’ critics will scoff at this, saying that only the Republicans would want to emulate reforms that have had such a bumpy ride and which have seen the provider of fitness-to-work tests exit its contract early. But that then returns us to the Labour party, who do not oppose the substance of the reforms, beyond a commitment to repeal the ‘bedroom tax’ and to cut overall welfare spending in a ‘fairer’ way. They did appoint Atos to carry out the Work Capability Assessments, although latterly called for the company to be sacked from the contract, which the government rolled out from pilots to the whole cohort of Incapacity Benefit claimants. They also know that there is little to be gained with the electorate in reversing the popular welfare reforms.

It’s not only the Republicans, who after all do not enjoy automatic acceptance among the Tories in this country, who want to replicate Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms. In the end, unless something dramatic changes in Labour policy between now and 2015, it’s the Opposition too.

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Show comments
  • Monkey_Bach

    What has IDS actually achieved? Has homelessness gone down? Has poverty been reduced? Have the numbers of rough sleepers fallen? Are fewer people men, women and children being forced to use food banks and seek help from charities because thay have been virtually abandoned by the state? Are sick and disabled citizens better supported and more respectfully treated by society? Have we become a happier and more civilised nation more at ease with itself? I’ll leave readers to fill in the blanks. But, seriously, if you have to cross an ocean to the wealthiest and most capitalist country on earth, where individuals regularly starve and freeze to death on the streets of its greatest cities and are stepped over obliviously by passers by, to find support for British welfare reforms from the most rabidly right-wing Republican politicos, I really think you ought to consider that there is a very good chance that something is most probably horribly wrong with those reforms.

  • Raw England

    No. You fail, fundamentally, Isabelle.

    If I may, let me explain: The reason why English citizens are being destroyed financially and viciously kicked off all benefits, is because of immigrants. Immigrants have also destroyed our entire housing and welfare system.

    What the nasty, evil IDS is doing, is implementing brutal, literally life-destroying measures upon the native people in order to sustain immigrants and immigration.

    • Richard

      you really are raw!!! I think he may also just be trying to bring the bill down as we can’t afford it anymore.

      • paradise 33

        “I think he may also just be trying to bring the bill down as we can’t afford it anymore.”

        If you truly believe that, richard, you’re as deluded as raw england.

      • Monkey_Bach

        But we can afford to give up to £2,000 towards child care costs to a couple with a joint income of up to £300,000 per year? Are you kidding?

  • Mynydd

    It seems Isabel Hardman doesn’t understand the basics behind parliament. It is for the government to put forward bill for debate, it is for the opposition to then hold the government to account.

  • ud6

    I find it hard to distinguish the politics of the Conservative party from that of countries like Uganda. Both make political decisions based on ideology rather than facts, and enrich themselves and their friends whilst criticising the poor. What a desperate place the uk has become.

  • Atos Miracles

    Very shoddy reporting…facts, figures and reality could have made this an interesting piece.

  • Radford_NG

    A greater reason why the IDS grand plan is wrong is just that;it is a grand plan.

    Consider Trade Union reform.Mrs.Castle tried the grand plan and it did not work.Under Mrs Thatcher, Mr.Pym took it step-by-step dealing with one issue at a time:the closed-shop;secret ballots:making-out each case.

    There were those Conservatives who condemned this slow approach;but it worked.

    IDS started by abuse against welfare scroungers,rather then thoughtfully raising problems arising from the piece-meal creation of the social security system:a system that was itself not built by Labour but under Thatcher and Major during the good years,if over extended by Blair and Brown who wrecked the economy that had supported them.

  • Mark D Graham

    stupid cow. He stands there lying about how much fraud there is and duck faced ponces like you re-preach his hate. There are many hated people in this country from McVey to CaMORON but IDS is at the top of the list even for a Teacher like myself with Gove raping the education system and childrens futures as competition. You are a Tory succubus.

    • Richard

      shouldn’t you be in the classroom?

    • whs1954

      Yes, how dare IDS think it’s more moral to try to get the unemployed back into work, rather than simply thinking that so long as unemployment benefit gets paid there’s nothing more that can be done and we simply accept a permanently unemployed class of people. What a wicked man he surely is.

  • Jim Moore

    This article is very biased and invents things like other countries interested. Workfare came from the US was tried and failed in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and then UK. Most of the work that the so called research was based on plagiarised material and in the US programme Min wage was paid and it still failed. The DWP itself did an investigation in 2006 and reported that it failed in those above countries and yet here we are with one more in a long line of misleading articles by Tories who just refused to believe the truth of the deaths of so many people and how many others have suffered. The least you could do was honour those victims instead of glossing the news

  • Magnolia

    Labour will never ever cut welfare spending. They are incapable of it. They will always increase taxes to pay for welfare spending, always. That is the difference between the left and the right in politics. Labour’s increase in welfare spending and taxation always eventually squashes the productive, earning economy and leads us to the famed dead end where they run out of other people’s money to spend.
    The right has to juggle and work hard to cut back both spending and taxation to give the economy a break and all the while making sure that the rich aren’t gaming the system at the expense of the poor. That’s why Labour want atomised individuals who are beholden to the state while the right want self supporting families and communities who look after each other.

    • paradise 33

      “That is the difference between the left and the right in politics.”

      Yet right-wing conservative thinking, coloured by the Christian concept of original sin, has always been based on the assumption that people are fundamentally selfish,seeking at all times to pursue their own interest. This then has to tempered by rules which channel our ‘natural’ selfish-cherishing into modes of behaviour which enable the functioning of a civilised society.

      Traditional left thinking, on the on the other hand, evolves from the
      insistence that people are fundamentally good and achieve their highest
      expression in working for the benefit of the communality.

      It’s true that in practice this has often led to authoritarian tyranny. Such
      are the ironies of belief.

      PS: The phrase “other people’s money” should be banned imo – apart from being a ridiculous cliche it also obscures the inherent dishonesty of our debt-based monetary system.

      • andagain

        Traditional left thinking, on the on the other hand, evolves from the
        insistence that people are fundamentally good and achieve their highest expression in working for the benefit of the communality.

        Curious that leftists who claim to think that also think it necessary to compel other people to do whatever the leftists think is for the good of the community.

        Do they think that the human beings they are taxing and ordering around are somehow not people?

        • paradise 33

          As I said, such thinking often does tend towards authoritarianism.

          In the left/right dichotomy neither side can claim ultimate legitimacy – and ordering people around is hardly the exclusive preserve of the left.

          • andagain

            No, but the enthusiasm for ordering people around on the left demonstrates that trust in other people is NOT its unifying feature.

            In fact, since denunciations of Big Government mostly come from the right, at least in the English-speaking world, it would seem that desire for the people’s liberty and trust in their good behaviour is mostly to be found on the right.

            I admit things might be different elsewhere in the world. But in this part of the world, no one is going to assume that a libertarian is left of centre.

    • Mark D Graham

      really? because social mobility made me a maths teacher with my own company on the side in 5 years. Tory succubus.

    • GraveDave

      to the state while the right want self supporting families and communities who look after each other.
      Yeah right, that’s why they brought in the bedroom tax and told people if they cant afford the extra tenner a week plus – that’s a sudden forty odd quid a week increase on top of the old charges – and to people already on the breadline – then get the fuckout of Dixie.

    • Mynydd

      We know all about right wing taxation policies, increase VAT to 20% for everyone, and reduce taxes from 50% to 45% but not for everyone only for the special few

  • paradise 33

    “Even Iain Duncan Smith’s critics can’t reject his welfare reforms.”

    Yes they can – and should.

    • Radford_NG

      And the word`welfare`which is an American concept.

      In Britain we talk of `health and welfare`,both of which are provided by personnel in the state,private or voluntary sectors;and doesn’t imply provision of money from the state.That is provided by `social security`.

      The term `social care`is now being used to denominate welfare.

      That IDS uses `welfare in the American sense is indicative that he has no grasp of British society.

  • jray

    IDS and Welfare reform? Other people want to replicate it? The failed Work Programme,Universal JobMatch,Universal Credit,Bedroom Tax,WCA/ATOS/PIP all a right Cluster £uck…Hiding the Unemployed by misrepresenting the statistics,lying to the PAC,Parliament and the Taxpayer….IDS should be thanking Miller,she is taking the spotlight off of his Incompetence!

    • telemachus

      I note IDS is playing a clever game with Maria
      Supporting her with direct words
      Then sending his girl Esther to stick the boot in

  • P.chi ki wan

    “moral mission” this phrase sends a shiver down my spine.

    • andagain


      • paradise 33

        Were ms hardman ever find herself on the receiving end of said ‘moral mission’ she would be less keen to describe it thusly .

        • andagain

          The receiving end of a moral mission “to make work pay”?

          My own experience of the benefits system is that they cut your benefits if you have saved money while in work or cut your housing costs so I am not terribly impressed with the moral status of the existing system.

          • paradise 33

            Indeed, under Universal Credit benefit claimants will be allowed to keep slightly more of any money they earn from work than they do now – but the amount is negligible (sorry, don’t have the figures to hand) and will certainly do little to ‘make work pay’.

            Some complain that the current system is too complex – but people’s situations are complex. UC is a dumbed-down, one-size-fits-all non-solution that will seek to force the self-employed and the part-time worker into the ever-widening realm of the ‘jobseeker’.

            Given today’s reign of target-driven sanctions under which the unemployed have to apply for jobs (which in most cases simply aren’t available), and the heedless cruelty of incompetent medical assessments at the hands of private-contractors, for IDS (or Hardman) to describe these cuts as ‘reforms’ is wilfully dishonest.

            • Aberrant_Apostrophe

              I’ve never understood why the word ‘credit’ is used in welfare initiatives such as Universal Credit, Tax Credit and Pension Credit. Do the recipients have to pay it back?

              • andagain

                I imagine “Universal Credit” sounds more politically paletable than “Universal Benefit” or “Universal Welfare”.

            • GraveDave

              Isabel seems to be constantly reminding us that if you vote Labour you still get IDS and his ‘moral mission’. And perhaps she’s right. Thanks to years of benefit abuse scare stories in the right wing papers and ‘reality’ shows like Saints and Scroungers and Benefits Street, the electorate have been firmly sold.

      • Mark D Graham

        because its immoral, not rocket science there.

  • SilentHunter

    I suggest that all benefits claimants hauled before a tribunal of the witch-finder general use the following defence . . . “I was only following Maria Miller’s example”.

    • telemachus

      But it is not the people
      The people do not give a stuff
      It is Dave vs The Press Barons

  • dado_trunking

    I have 44 grand you wrongly paid me.
    Try and come and get it back!

    • HookesLaw

      It wasn’t wrongly paid, so you need to practice in front of the mirror a bit more before you top the bill at the Apollo.

      • SilentHunter

        No indeed . . . it was “wrongly claimed”.

        That’s called FRAUD.

        As is flipping your home to net £1.2 million at taxpayers expense.

        You know? . . . for someone called “Hookes Law; you’re not very good at . . . well? . . . law! LOL

      • dado_trunking

        “The common refrain is that by defending a minister who was judged by an independent investigator to have claimed more than £40,000 of public money to which she was not entitled…”

        What is this? Comedy Central?

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