Iain Duncan Smith (IDS) has resigned as Secretary to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). His letter of resignation cited the Chancellor’s ‘indefensible’ proposed budgetary cuts to Personal Independent Payments (PIP), the disability benefit, as the reason. The mainstream media have hailed him as a hero. I believe this is misplaced. IDS has implemented the most insensitive welfare cuts to single parents and the poorest people. The suicide rate soared as a result. IDS did not pause, and his honesty is questionable in my opinion. There are two excellent reasons why IDS could have resigned. He is at odds with the Prime Minister (PM) and Chancellor for he supports Brexit and IDS has botched the Tory flagship Universal Credit Reform. These explain his resignation far better than his ‘crocodile tears’ for the disabled.
In January in a newspaper interview, IDS referred to the ‘sickness benefit culture’ and hinted at his plans to reform employment support for disabled people. In March ahead of the budget IDS announced the cuts to PIP saying that they would ‘improve the lot of those worst-off’. These words alone belie his resignation, which would have been appropriate at the time he announced the policy.
Significantly, hours before IDS resigned on Friday 18 March the threatened Tory backbench revolt had effectively shelved the PIP reforms. Notably, on the day before his resignation, IDS lost another court case. This one involved his attempt to keep potentially damning Universal Credit documents secret. His resignation displaced that news.
There is a slew of cases where IDS welfare policies have been judged to be illegal, but his conscience did not trouble him to redress the imbalances. In January 2016, the Appeal Court ruled that his infamous bedroom tax discriminated unlawfully against disabled children. In November 2015, he lost the High Court case over benefit caps to carers of disabled people. In June 2015, a court ruled that IDS was “unreasonable”, “irrational” and acted “unlawfully” by delaying payments of PIP. He has even ignored coroners’ warnings that a controversial disability benefits assessment is a threat to the lives of claimants with mental health conditions. A Government funded research project concluded that the DWP assessment programme could be responsible for almost 600 suicides in 3 years. IDS did not resign over that!
IDS attitude is not only questionable about disabled people. In my opinion, he is mendacious. He has lied on his CV and misled the public. The Information Commissioner ruled in April 2015 that IDS should make public DWP information welfare related deaths. In May 2015, he denied that his department carried out 49 secret reviews into benefit-related deaths. IDS continued to deny its existence to Parliament in June 2015. In the wake of a 200,000-strong petition against IDS the PM two days later announced that statistics were being prepared for publication. In August 2015, there was another petition calling for IDS to resign after his department fabricated quotes to promote its benefit sanctions regime.
IDS was likely to be removed from Cabinet. He wants Britain to leave the EU while the PM and the Chancellor want to remain. If Britain voted to stay, IDS Cabinet position would be untenable. By resigning, IDS is clear to campaign vigorously for Brexit, which is where he is staking his political future.
There are also questions about his much overdue and over budget flagship policy Universal Credit. IDS stated in 2011 that over one million people would be claiming Universal Credit by April 2014. By the October, less than 15,000 were on Universal Credit at an administrative cost of £130 million. Currently, there are 200,000 people on Universal Credit. The target for next year is 12 million. Estimates suggest Universal Credit is unlikely to be fully implemented until 2021, four years later than initially planned and probably significantly over budget.
Universal Credit is set to reduce payments to claimants by £900 annually and has been the subject of a four-year legal battle. IDS has been footing an enormous legal bill to keep the documents that detail the problems with Universal Credit secret. With IDS gone, perhaps this decision will not be appealed, and we can see the extent of his failing.
IDS resignation could not have come at a better time for him. He has undermined the Chancellor, who is looking to become the next PM and with whom he has continually clashed. His resignation has scored a hit for the Brexit Campaign. To them, he will be the hero. For me, he has escaped scrutiny for Universal Credit, which has been an absolute disaster. Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation was not an attack of conscience, and he is not the people’s hero.
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