Several months ago this blog accused Iain Duncan Smith of being a liar and a coward because, not only had he fabricated statistics on the number of people leaving benefits because of his new benefit cap, but he had also weaseled his way out of an appearance before the Commons Work and Pensions Committee to account for this behaviour.
The very next day, we had to apologise (to readers) and publish a correction saying that the man we call ‘Returned To Unit’ would be attending a follow-up meeting in September, at which the 100,000-signature petition calling him to account for the benefit cap lies, organised by Jayne Linney and Debbie Sayers, would also be presented to MPs.
Apparently the meeting was being timed to coincide with publication of the DWP’s annual report for 2012-13.
Now it is November, and we have still had no meeting with RTU. Nor have we seen the annual report, which is now almost eight months late. Meanwhile the calamities at the DWP have been mounting up.
The latest appears in a Guardian report published yesterday, about the ongoing disaster that is Universal Credit. You may remember, Dear Reader, that the Department for Work and Pensions has admitted it had to write off £34 million that had been spent on the scheme; it subsequently emerged that the total amount to be written off might actually be as high as £161 million.
The Guardian article appears to confirm this, adding £120 million to the £34 already written off if the DWP follows one of two possible plans to take the nightmarish scheme forward.
This would restart Universal Credit from scratch, creating a system based on the Internet – and reducing the need for Job Centre staff – and tends to confirm the suggestion that staff are seen as a liability in the government’s plan to cut back on benefit payments; despite being told to bully, harass and intimidate everyone who darkens their doors, they have an annoying inclination to help people claim the benefits due to them.
The other plan would attempt to salvage the existing system, and is understood to be favoured by the Secretary-in-a-State. The drawback is that it could lead to an even greater waste of taxpayers’ money (not that this has ever been a consideration for Mr… Smith in the past. He’ll waste millions like water while depriving people of the pennies they need to survive).
Universal Credit aims to merge six major benefits and tax credits into one, restricting eligibility for the new benefit in order to cut down on payouts. It relies on the government creating a computer programme that can synchronise systems run by HM Revenue and Customs, the DWP itself, and employers. So far, this has proved impossible and a planned rollout in April was restricted to just one Job Centre, where staff handled only the simplest claims and worked them out on paper. Later revelations showed that the system as currently devised has no way of weeding out fraudulent claims.
A leaked risk assessment says the web-based scheme is “unproven… at this scale”, and that it would not be possible to roll out the new system “within the preferred timescale”. Smith has continually maintained that it will be delivered on time and on budget but, as concerns continue to be raised by senior civil servants that systems are not working as expected and there are too many design flaws, it seems likely this is a career-ending claim.
Is this why he hasn’t deigned to account for himself before the Work and Pensions Committee?
Earlier this week, the government lost its appeal against a court ruling that its regulations for Workfare and other mandatory work activity schemes were illegal. Public Interest Lawyers, who handled the case against the government, has taken the view that anyone who fell foul of the regulations may now take action to get their money back. But the matter is complicated by the fact that the government unwisely passed a retrospective law to legalise the rules, in a bid to stop the 228,000 benefit claimants it had sanctioned after they refused to work for their benefits from demanding the money that ministers had – in effect – stolen from them. Iain Duncan Smith is the man behind this mess.
Is this why he hasn’t deigned to account for himself before the committee?
We have yet to learn why this man felt justified in claiming 8,000 – and then 12,000 – people had left benefits because of the £26,000 cap he introduced in April (he claimed it is equal to average family income but in fact it is £5,000 and change short of that amount as he failed to consider benefits that such families could draw). Information from polling company Ipsos Mori showed that the real number of people who had dropped their claims after hearing of the scheme was more likely to be 450 – just nine per cent of the figure he originally quoted.
Is this why he hasn’t put a meeting with the committee in his diary?
Perhaps we should not be surprised, though – it seems that RTU has never had a decent grip on the way his department works. For example, he allowed George Osborne to cancel Disability Living Allowance for one-fifth of claimants in 2010, claiming that the benefit had been “spiralling” out of control because it had 3.1 million claimants – triple the number since it was introduced in 1992. Smith said the rise was “inexplicable” but in fact the explanation is simplicity itself, as The Guardian‘s Polly Toynbee pointed out just two days ago:
“DLA is only paid to those of working age, but when they retire they keep it, so as more people since 1992 move into retirement, numbers rise fast. There has been no change in numbers with physical conditions, despite a larger population; back injuries have declined with the decline of heavy industry. There has been a real growth in numbers with learning disabilities: more premature babies survive but with disabilities, while those with Down’s syndrome no longer die young. More people with mental illness claim DLA now, following changes in case law: there has been no increase in mental illness, with 7% of the population seriously ill enough to be receiving treatment, yet only 1% claim DLA. Psychosis is the commonest DLA diagnosis, hardly a trivial condition. This pattern of disability mirrors the rest of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, with nothing exceptional here.”
In other words, from the moment he took over this hugely important government department, with its huge – and controversial – budget, Iain Duncan Smith had about as much understanding of its workings as a child.
It seems Sir John Major was exactly right when he expressed fears about the DWP Secretary’s ability last week, claiming his genius “has not been proven”.
Is this why we’ve seen neither hide nor … head of the Secretary of State?
Finally, Dear Reader, you will be aware that Vox Political submitted a Freedom of Information request to the DWP, asking for up-to-date statistics on the number of Employment and Support Allowance claimants who have died during a claim or while appealing against a decision about a claim – and that the request was dismissed on the indefensible grounds that it was “vexatious”. This was not good enough so the matter went to the Information Commissioner’s office and, according to an email received this week, will soon be brought to a conclusion.
Is this why Iain Duncan Smith is hiding?
Perhaps it’s time to drag him out of his bolt-hole and force some answers out of him.
Jayne (Linney), in her blog, has called on people who use Twitter to start tweeting demands for Smith to come forward, using the hashtags #whereisIDS and #DWPLateReview. This is good, and those of you who do so are welcome to use any of the information in this article as ammunition in such a campaign.
There is nothing to stop anyone writing to the press – local or national – to ask what is going on and why benefit claimants are being left in suspense about the future of their claims. People have to work out how they will pay their bills, and the continued uncertainty caused by Mr… Smith’s catalogue of calamities is causing problems up and down the country.
A short message to your MP might help stir the Secretary of State out of his slumber, also.
In fact, let’s use all the tools at our disposal to expose this man for what he is – just as this blog stated in July and in May: A liar and a coward who has committed contempt of Parliament and should be expelled – not just from public office, but from public life altogether.
Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike
Join the Vox Political Facebook page.
Vox Political needs your help!
This independent blog’s only funding comes from readers’ contributions.
Without YOUR help, we cannot keep going.
You can make a one-off donation here:
Alternatively, you can buy Vox Political books!
The second – Health Warning: Government! is now available
in either print or eBook format here:
The first, Strong Words and Hard Times
is still available in either print or eBook format here: