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We get few answers from the Work and Pensions grudge match

23 June 2014

Departmental questions have, by this stage of the parliament, all developed their own characters. There is the colourful combat of Treasury questions, often involving one Tory minister deploying a lengthy analogy involving handing over the keys to a car or arson to describe Ed Balls. Then there’s Michael Gove and Tristram Hunt’s lesson in rhetoric at Education questions. And then there’s the hour-long grudge match that enlightens no-one at Work and Pensions questions.

Today’s session was a typical example. Labour had plenty to attack on, from the implementation of universal credit to the cost of the employment and support allowance. And the party did attack. But the questions and the answers revealed very little about whether the government’s welfare reforms are under control or not, save that Mike Penning seems to think that the BBC cooked up its leak about ESA for ‘their own benefit’, without being fully clear what benefit there might be to a news organisation of a leaked document, other than that it is, er, news.

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The session grew more heated as it progressed. David Winnick told Iain Duncan Smith that he was ‘sickened’ by the way ministers were answering questions about the most vulnerable. IDS told Labour that it had a ‘pathetic’ excuse for not visiting a JobCentre rolling out Universal Credit. Very little light was shed on the department. Here is the exchange between the Work and Pensions Secretary and Rachel Reeves:

Reeves: ‘At the start of this year 3,780 people were claiming Universal Credit. The most recent numbers show that 5,610 people are receiving the benefit. At this rate of progress, how long will it be until the 7.7 million households that are supposed to be receiving this government’s flagship benefit as the Secretary of State originally set out will be receiving it?’

Duncan Smith: ‘We’ve already made this clear. To date, around 11,000 are actually on the pathfinders, we are now rolling out… starting that rollout to another 9 sites beyond the 10 sites that we were doing the pathfinder in, there will be further changes and further enhancements and we expect and believe, according to the plan that we laid out, that everybody will be on by 2017.’

Reeves: ‘I think it’s the first time I haven’t heard the Secretary of State say his project is on time and on budget but we still hear total and utter complacency. Mr Speaker at this rate of progress it will take a staggering 1,052 years before Universal Credit is rolled out.

‘So what do we have? Universal Credit delayed, Personal Independence Payments delayed, employment and support allowance delayed, doesn’t the Secretary of State realise that his incompetence is not only wasting tens and hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money but is also causing untold pain and hardship for she of the most vulnerable people in our country?’

Duncan Smith: ‘Can I just say to the honourable lady, Universal Credit, as I said, will be rolling out to the 90 sites and we will be delivering it safely and carefully, unlike what they did with tax credits. But can I also say in her general answer to what we’re doing, this government and this department has entered into the biggest welfare reform programme and we are getting more people into work, record numbers in work, record falls in unemployment, more young people into work, more young people who’ve been long-term unemployed back in work, the benefit cap, 42,000 people have been capped, 6,000 as a result have moved into work, Universal Credit, 600,000 claimant commitments signed, Universal Job Match has 6.9 million people registered, the work programme – no, she’ll want to hear this stuff because these are all records of success of welfare reform, but the Work Programme is 550,000 people they wrote off and never got a job now back in work and auto-enrolment under my right honourable friend, 3.6 million people into a workplace pension. This is a government reforming welfare, that is a government with no policies, no purpose and no prospects.’

Who is right? Is it Duncan Smith, who says it is better to roll something out more slowly than you’d anticipated so that you don’t muck it up (an admission that Universal Credit won’t be on time or on budget, but better to be late, more expensive and useful than on time, on budget and a hopeless mess)? Or is it Rachel Reeves, who says the programme is now moving so slowly that it will take over a thousand years before it is rolled out properly?

We have many more Work and Pensions questions before we’ll find out the answer, which will only come after the General Election. Either Labour will win and pause the project, presumably before deciding that it would be even messier to unravel it and that the principle is so important that it cannot abandon the reform. Or the Tories win. But if the Tories are in power, this is not an automatic guarantee that Universal Credit will succeed: conspiracy theorists in Whitehall maintain that the project could simply be on ice until after 2015 when IDS may have moved on from his position and it will be easier to ditch it. Other ministers seem more hopeful that it is safe, although no-one seems particularly keen to take on the Work and Pensions brief any time soon.

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Show comments
  • SeverinIvan

    I’m going with Rachel Reeves, I don’t think it will be rolled out to everyone until the early 2020’s.

    Ivan | Sova

  • HookesLaw

    IDS made some pretty plain starements at the dispatch box. Ms Hardman says whomis right. Well is she suggesting IDS is lying?

  • HookesLaw

    When the news organisation is institutionally left wing then a leak which attacks a ‘tory led’ govt is to its advantage.

  • Mynydd

    Isabel, I know that Duncan Smith is a failure

  • allymax bruce

    Isabel, interesting take (grudge match), on this Welfare issue between Tories & Labour. I think we all now know, that both the Tories Iain Duncan Smith, (IDS), and Labour’s Rachel Reeves, (RR), have stated they will both ‘cap the Welfare costs, down from £200 billion, to £120 billion’. The process of ‘capping’ said Welfare benefits is actually costing more than to supply the benefits!

    ”Work Capability Assessments’, each one, now costs more (£1500), than it
    would be to pay the sick and disabled claimant the claim (£1120), they need to
    simply ‘get-by.” (Kate Green).

    That’s not saving money, that’s scrutinising the poor, so that bureaucracy jobs are created for ATOS ‘Work Capability Assessments’, at the cost of the poor! Moreover, the Employment Support Allowance, (ESA), and Job Seekers Allowance, (JSA), claimants, are now being ‘sanctioned’, and ‘disallowed’! This means a poor person, staying in basic living accommodation, now gets his/her basic £9 per-day living-money stolen from them by Iain Duncan Smith’s DWP & ATOS ‘Work Capability Assessments’!
    But there’s more!

    IDS’ DWP has introduced further punitive measures on the poor; IDS has put in place JSA & ESA ‘application processing’ times that leave a claimant without any living-money at all! A poor person makes a claim, then the ESA/JSA application assessor has up to 3 weeks to process the claim; leaving the claimant without any money; and that’s only moving from one claim, ESA, to the other, JSA. Poor people coming off ESA, being forced-onto JSA, by ATOS ‘Work Capability Assesments’, are now ‘disallowed’ their in-lue accrued pittance of £9 per day, from when they last recieved their fortnightly meagre ESA payment, from the day the poor person is forced to make a JSA claim. The poor person has got to make a separate application to get any in-lue money that they were entitled-to, but, has been caught-up in the ending & starting of application systems of claiming for ESA to JSA.
    This is evil; it means poor people are ‘disallowed’ their basic £9 per-day, their accommodation rent/council tax; and Private Sector Landlords can kick the poor person out of the accommodation due to going into arrears because of the ‘no-mans-land’ enforced switch from ESA to JSA. Tories, IDS, Labour RR, both Westmonster political party’s are deliberately attacking the poor, and further forcing them into deeper & more desperate realms of poverty. People are committing suicide because of IDS, RR, and Westmonster.

  • goatmince

    Why do the BBC always invite the really weak right wingers onto Question Time?
    After Shapps it was IDS’s turn to thoroughly disappoint.

  • LadyDingDong

    Lost in all this is the utmost unbelievable fact that “7.7 million households” are in receipt of Government benefits. How did we get ourselves into this situation where almost half of the population is living off the other half?

    • MalcolmRedfellow

      Because pay is so low. Hence the taxpayer subsidises employers. It used to be the way public utilities were run. Since privatisation we need other means to same end.

      • Kitty MLB

        Maybe it was always intended to be kept low. Mr ‘ bonkers’ Brown always meant
        people to work as long as they remained poor enough to require benefits.
        So therefore keep them trapped and dependent. But with just enough
        independence for them t thing the government were helping them.
        Labour are so good at the art of manipulation and deceit.

        • allymax bruce

          Both Labour & Tories now admit they will force the poor off ESA & JSA, into low-paid jobs, only to count them off the Employment Register. So, Westminster are functionally making the poor people work for the same as what they would be getting from benefits. Hence, the amount of ‘in-work poor’ begging at the foodbanks.

          I’ve had enough of Westminster.
          Vote Yes, for Scottish Independence.

          • Kitty MLB

            And so you must do that Ally. Some also wish we could
            have a referendum about leaving Westminster. So I might
            be wandering Edinburgh as well as Mull and trust I will still
            be welcome to visit beautiful Scotland.

            • allymax bruce

              Kitty, you are a wonderful human being; your charitable hearing-in-your-heart, surely is heard by God.
              As such, you will be welcomed everywhere; especially in Scotland.

          • Dougie

            Why shouldn’t people who are fit to do so work for their benefits? Gordon Brown once said he wanted “Workfare not Welfare” but for some reason never actually did anything about it.

            • allymax bruce

              Hi Dougie, thanks for your reply.
              Quoting Gordon Brown, the narcissistic echo of psychotic madman Tony Bliar, does your ‘argument’ no good what-so-ever. Do you ‘work’ for your ‘benefits’? Westminster trougher-politicians do nothing but screw-up the whole UK economic system, to suit their own Class System agenda; while stealing tax-payers money for ‘the’ dark ruse! Seems to me, you, living in your Westminster bubble, having your compliant Westminster Establishment MSM feed your ever-insatiable ego, also does you no good; you are blind to what is happening to your very own people. I actually feel really sorry for you. (Matthew 6:24).

          • HookesLaw

            Don’t be pathetically silly. If jobs are available the state should not be subsidising people to live off benefits. Working tax credits boost the low paid – so your nasty smears are just that – lies.

            • allymax bruce

              ‘too wee, too poor, too stupid’; thanks for that (Tory) Hookeslaw.
              The low-paid poor people you talk-of, taking the jobs that are available, are still on state-subsidised benefits; working tax credits only boost the ‘low-paid’, up to what they would get off benefits, for not working!
              You have to be Iain Duncan-Smith to be so far up your own bahookie to think you’re right. What you are ‘promoting’ as ‘right’, is actually an evil injustice wrong; UK is the worst welfare benefits payer in the EU; in-fact, the EU have stated UK Westminster is unlawfully creating massive poverty on a draconian scale never seen before! What you think is ‘right’, everybody else in EU/UK thinks is wrong!
              Just admit it IDS; you are purposely impoversihing the UK.

      • Dougie

        Er, but if employers put wages up their profits would fall (if indeed they stayed in business) and they would pay less tax, thus leaving the taxpayer unable to subsidise employers …

    • goatmince

      Piketty knows

      • EowynRohan01

        Snake Oil Salesmen will always find the unwary and gullible to accept whatever baloney they sell.

    • allymax bruce

      Your Class System; it lives off the poor half of the UK !

    • Kitty MLB

      There will always be some who will want something of what someone else has
      earned. Labour would want us all to be as poor as each other. Forgetting
      those who support public services and the poor.

    • HookesLaw

      Yes you are correct – its paid by the taxes from immigrants. And yes that should change.

  • global city

    Isabel, there is a much more important story breaking. Cameron and the top Whitehall mandarins are doing their nuts because one consequence of Juncker being confirmed as Commission president is that he would offer the UK a really good trade/associate deal… which of course is the last thing the Tories actually want.

    Their decades-long pretend Euroscepticism is about to blow up in their faces. That is why Cameron is so violently opposed to Juncker. He will offer them a deal that they do not want to take.

    • HookesLaw

      It would be quite interesting and indeed nice if we were ‘offered’ such a deal – it would give Cameron a shot to nothing in his negotiations (if re-elected). To say this is the last thing tories want is a stretch. The mandarins may think differently.

      And of course it has to be true first.
      It would of course take more than him to be able to make such an offer.

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