Tag Archives: Iain Duncan Smith

Reducing Unemployment To Zero Neither Feasible Nor Desirable Says Iain Duncan Smith’s Think Tank

CSJThe think tank founded by Iain Duncan Smith has let the cat out of the bag and admitted that reducing unemployment to zero is neither feasible or desirable.

The comments come in the latest report from the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), the madcap Christian dominated think tank that came up with Universal Credit. The CSJ praises George Osborne’s drive for full employment (stop laughing) but points out that this does not mean everyone should have a job, but that employment levels remain at a level which does not cause inflation.

The problem for the CSJ, and George Osborne, is that if work was in plentiful supply then the bastards would have to pay us properly.  That is why real full employment is neither feasible nor desirable to the people who profit from our work.  Capitalism cannot function without unemployment but still unemployed people are not just blamed for this situation, but endlessly punished with workfare and benefit sanctions.

The CSJ’s  astonishing admission comes alongside proposals to send young people on workfare from the moment they leave education as well as recommendations to provide lucrative new payment regimes for welfare-to-work companies to run unpaid work schemes.  The Centre for Social Justice is known to have received funding from these companies.  And that just about sums these scum up.  They can’t fix unemployment and they don’t want to, they just want to make a profit from it.

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The Staggering Cost Of One Man’s Delusions: £25 Billion Squandered On Bungled Welfare Reforms

iain-duncan-smithThe recent report from the Major Projects Authority, which revealed that Universal Credit is such a fucking disaster they had to invent a whole new category to describe it, also laid bare the astronomical cost of Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms.

Just under £11 billion is budgeted to be squandered on some of the DWP’s largest projects, and that figure doesn’t include Universal Credit.  The cost of this hare-brained experiment is shrouded in mystery now it has been classed as ‘reset’, but last year the Major Projects Authority reported that the bill would reach £12.8 billion.

Even this is far from the whole story.  Community Work Placements, the latest mass workfare scheme, will cost almost a third of a billion.  The costs of other Jobcentre schemes, such as Mandatory Work Activity, are not included in the above figures.  At the very least the budgeted costs of welfare reform exceed £25 billion pounds.  The true figure is likely to be much higher as reforms such as the Bedroom Tax unravel and start to cost the tax payer even more money.

The good news is that not all of this budget has been spent.  It had been assumed by the DWP that the Work Programme would actually help some people get jobs.  They thought wrong.  Such has been the dismal performance of the payment by results scheme that it is one of the few of Iain Duncan Smith’s pet projects that is actually running under budget.

The bad news is that this kind of crazed optimism has led to ludicrous spending projections in which IDS has decided his reforms will lead to the cost of Jobseeker’s Allowance falling by over a third by 2017.  This is likely to be because of all the new jobs that he thinks will be magically created by Universal Credit.  What it means is that there is a time bomb in the social security budget for whichever bunch of bastards manages to win the next election.

With all this money being thrown around to bully and harass claimants off benefits it might be expected that spending on social security would fall, especially as those benefits themselves have been subject to huge cuts.  This is not the case however and total spending on social security this year is forecast to be £10 billion higher than before the cuts began.  This figures includes pensions, but spending on unemployment benefits, housing benefits and tax credits has reached record levels under this Government.  Even spending on sickness benefits seems back on the rise despite Atos and the DWP’s attempt at curing people with endless assessments and workfare.  It turns out people are still getting sick.

It is genuinely astonishing that a Government obsessed with austerity has given a blank cheque-book to a fucking idiot like Iain Duncan Smith.  The real tragedy is that if some of this money had actually gone into to those who needed it then some of the worst impacts of the economic downturn could have been avoided.  Instead the opposite has happened.  The very poorest have been driven to destitution whilst billions has been shovelled into the pockets of grasping crooks in the welfare-to-work industry like A4e and G4S.

We are all paying the price of this reckless spending spree, and the social costs of child poverty, homelessness and despair that Iain Duncan Smith has spent billions creating will last for generations.  One day people will look back in horror that one man’s folly was allowed to run rampant through so many lives.  But for now the horror show continues unabated, and the financial cost is nothing compared to the tragedy of future’s destroyed and lives demolished.

To view the Major Project Authority report visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/dwp-government-major-projects-portfolio-data-2014

To see benefit expenditure and projections download the spreadsheet: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/310483/outturn-and-forecast-budget-2014.xls

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Welfare Reform Has Failed: Number Of Long Term Claimants Soars Under Tories

long-term-claims-tableThe number of long-term claimants on the main out of work benefits has almost doubled since 2010 when this Government weren’t elected DWP statistics have revealed.

In 2010 a total of 698,000 people had been claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, the Work Related Activity Group element of Employment Support Allowance (WRAG ESA), Income Support for Lone Parents (ISLP), or a combination of these, for three out of the last four years.  By 2013 this figure had leapt to an astonishing 1,244,000.

This does not represent everyone who has been on long-term benefits.  Whilst the statistical release doesn’t explain why these claimants were singled out in the figures it seems likely it is because all of those on these benefits are subject to ‘conditionality’.  That means they face workfare, benefit sanctions and all the so-called ‘help’ of the welfare-to-work sector to try and bully them off benefits.  Many will have endured two years of the shambolic Work Programme and like most sent on the scheme have failed to find lasting work.

The figures are particularly embarrassing for Iain Duncan Smith as this is exactly the groups of claimants many of his bungled welfare reforms have been aimed at.  Billions has been spent harassing and stigmatising this group only to make the problem far worse than when the Tories came into office.

The analysis of the figures points out that one reason for the growing number of this kind of long term claimant is that it does not include all those on working age benefits including people in the Support Group of ESA – who are not forced to look for work, or those still claiming the old Incapacity Benefit.  The DWP’s excuse is that the Atos re-assessments, which have found hundreds of thousands of people ‘fit for work’ and so placed them under a conditionality regime, are responsible for this huge rise in the number of long-term claimants.  Whilst on the surface this seems to make sense, it actually turns out to be complete bollocks.

This is because the total number of people on all working age benefits for three of the last four years -  including the ones left out of the first figures – has also risen since 2010, from 2.46 million to 2.49 million.  The ESA re-assessments, which have caused untold suffering and are linked to an ever growing number of suicides, have not made a dent.  This is backed up by the official figures for the number of people on all forms of out of work sickness or disability benefits which despite Atos, has only fallen by about 200,000 since 2010.  This comes nowhere near to explaining the jump of half a million people on long-term conditionality based benefits.

Iain Duncan Smith’s reforms are absolutely hurting – unprecedented numbers of people are finding themselves dependent on foodbanks to feed their children.  Welfare reform is costing a fortune, with billions of tax payer’s money being shovelled into the pockets of grasping parasites like G4S.  But it clearly isn’t working.  4% of the working age population has now been on benefits for three out of the last four years, up from 2.3% in 2010.  Iain Duncan Smith’s reckless experiment has failed.  And the cost of his breath-taking arrogance has been homelessness, child poverty and in some tragic cases, even death.

View the figures at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/307634/duration-on-working-age-benefits-may-2014.pdf

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The Unemployment Timebomb At The Heart Of Universal Credit

self-employed-earnings-graphIain Duncan Smith’s response this week to soaring low paid self-employment shows he remains as clueless as ever about what is really going on in the jobs market.

According to IDS, figures showing that the number of self-employed workers has jumped by 600,000 is a sign of “entrepreneurial spirit” and proves that his bungled and reckless policies are working. What is really going on is very different and lays the foundation for an unemployment time bomb at the heart of Universal Credit.

Some of the rise in self-employment is almost certainly down to falling living standards.  People who have taken early retirement are  setting up small businesses in an effort to pay soaring bills, along with so-called mumpreneurs – parents forced out of the workplace due to huge childcare costs and shit wages. The rise of the internet has also allowed some of those who are unemployed to generate a small income from self-employment, such as an ebay shop, or by carrying out small amounts of paid work online through micro-job sites.  Many companies use flaky self-employment contracts for sporadic or casual work to help them dodge minimum wage laws, or providing other benefits such as holiday pay.  These are some of the reasons self-employment is soaring, but few are really making much money.

Alongside this Jobcentre staff and Welfare-to-work companies are known to have encouraged unemployed people to claim Working Tax Credits and set up as self-employed, even if there is little chance of them earning a livable income. This gets them off the unemployment figures and onto a lower rate of benefits, although it may be a risky move for the claimant.  A claim for Working Tax Credits demands that those without children spend  30 hours a week working as part of their self-employment.  If they are unable to prove this then at some point the Tax Office may decide to take back the money that the DWP advised them to claim.

According to a report released late last year, the average annual income for self-employed workers (who earn less than £100,000) was just under £10,400 in 2011, a fall from from £15,000 in 2000.  There are currently four and a half million people who are self-employed.

£10,400 a year works out at £200 a week -  less than somebody working 35 hours a week on the current minimum wage would earn. That means that many, if not most, of these workers will be unable to claim the upcoming (stop laughing) Universal Credit as self-employed earners.

When Universal Credit is fully introduced, only those earning the equivalent of a full time minimum wage salary will be eligible for self-employment part of the new benefit which replaces Working Tax Credits, Child Tax Credits and Housing Benefit.

Claimants will be given a year to achieve these earnings – although first they will have to pass the planned Jobcentre Dragon’s Den assessment to prove their self-employment is financially viable. If after 12 months they are not hitting the required earnings they will see benefits slashed as they will be assumed to be earning the full-time minimum wage when their claim is calculated.  Many will be forced to forsake self-employment at this point, and some will be told to do so by the Jobcentre.  Instead they will become ‘unemployed’ and expected to spend 35 hours a week carrying out ‘work related activity’ such as attending endless courses on how to write a CV or even full time workfare. They may even have to give up the work they are doing which makes them a small income because – astonishingly -  Jobcentre busy-bodies will have the power to sentence claimants to unpaid work instead of allowing them to carry out paid work on a self-employed basis.

Iain Duncan Smith may have convinced himself he has created a new spirit of entrepreneurship, but seems to have forgotten that even if this were true – and it isn’t – he plans to kill it stone dead.  And then all those self-employed workers will suddenly be back on the dole, and we will see the true extent of unemployment in the UK.

Above graph from the Tax Research report on plummeting earnings for the self-employed.

For the latest red tape ridden rules planned for self-employed Universal Credit claimants visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/254254/uc-and-self-employment-quick-guide.pdf

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DWP Block Report To Cover Up Work Programme Shambles

IDS-slugThe DWP are refusing to release an evaluation of the floundering £6 billion pound Work Programme despite the report having recently featured on Channel 4 news.

The evaluation is believed to be critical of the Work Programme and in particular benefit sanctions, warning that they found: “no conclusive evidence that sanctions were changing job search behaviour or increasing job entry rates.”

A Freedom of Information request asking to see the report has today been refused by the DWP on the grounds that they plan to publish it at an unspecified later date (PDF).  The evaluation was scheduled to be released in the Summer of last year.

This is not the first time the DWP have treated Freedom of Information (FOI) rules with contempt in a shoddy effort to conceal what’s really going on, and wrong, with the department.  A ruling by the Information Commissioner;s Office (ICO) ordering the release of the names of charities benefiting from free labour under the Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) scheme has been completely ignored.  A second ICO ruling (PDF) ordering the DWP to confirm whether a charity was involved in workfare was issued last month, and has so far been snubbed.  The DWP were found in breach of the FOI again (PDF) at the end of last month when they were slammed in a ruling for not taking the reasonable steps required to clarify another request relating to Mandatory Work Activity.

The DWP have claimed that if the public were allowed to know who is using workfare then the scheme might collapse.  They pretend this would stop people benefiting from the ‘disciplines’ that workfare offers and may even harm the economy.  After all, if people knew that household names such as The Salvation Army, the YMCA, Groundwork and The Conservation Volunteers were all forcing people to work without pay then they might decide these charities were a bunch of wankers and never give them a penny again.

There is no such excuse for refusing to release an evaluation into the Work Programme however – a report produced with our money.  The only person likely to look like a wanker if people see this document is Iain Duncan Smith himself who is still pretending how wonderful the Work Programme is.  The Work Programme statistics already show the scheme is a disaster and steadily getting worse. No doubt the DWP hope they can hide just how much of a wanker Iain Duncan Smith actually is until after the next election.  But it’s too late.  Everybody knows.

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Iain Duncan Smith Should Be Put On Trial Over The Work Capability Assessment Deaths

atos_kills_bannerThe tragic death of severely unwell Mark Wood, who died of malnutrition just five months after he was found ‘fit for work’ by Atos and the DWP, was not just ‘wrong’ as the Government have today admitted – it was grossly negligent.  Whether this negligence was criminal must be urgently investigated.

Morally, and almost certainly legally, the DWP have a duty of care when making decisions which can potentially devastate the lives of those called  ‘vulnerable adults’ by care professionals.  The Work Capability Assessment, which led to the death of Mark Wood, has already been found unfair for people with mental health conditions in the courts.  Instead of halting the assessments based on this judgement, Iain Duncan Smith has brushed it aside – convinced he knows better than the courts, the medical establishment and the thousands of sick and disabled people themselves driven to despair by the current system.

Mark Wood’s death is far from the first linked to welfare reforms.  A recent report by the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland (PDF) highlighted another suicide which they found was directly linked to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA).  In a damning report, the charity surveyed 56 psychiatrists who had treated patients facing one of these crude, computer based assessments.  Their findings are both horrifying and desperately sad:

“85% of the 52 respondents to this question told us about an increased frequency of appointments. 65% had at least one patient who required an increased dose of medication and 35% reported at least one patient who had changed medication. 40% had at least one patient who had self-harmed after the WCA. 13% of respondents reported that a patient had attempted suicide and 4% (two RMOs) stated that a patient had taken his/her own life. 35% said that at least one of their patients had been admitted to hospital as a consequence of the WCA and 4% told us about a patient being detained under the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003.”

The Work Capability Assessment must be brought to an immediate halt.  Even the company in charge, the notorious Atos, finally seem to have realised this, confirming this week they will pull out of the contract early.  This is the only way to stop any more deaths, and it needs to happen now, as in this week.  Otherwise more people will die.

It is no longer enough however to call just for the Government to scrap every aspect of the bungled and brutal welfare reforms that are destroying so many lives.  People are dying in one of the richest countries in the world as a direct result of this horrifying attack on the very poorest people.  The politicians in charge know this, but are happy to let these deaths continue as part of the ideologically driven obsession with proving that people on benefits are scroungers or fakes and that unemployment is caused by unemployed people.

According to the Daily Mail, David Cameron has backed an urgent review into the Work Capability Assessment.  This review should not just look into the failures in the process but assess whether negligence has taken place and if so who is culpable and whether criminal charges can be brought.  If Iain Duncan Smith. Atos or the DWP, can be put on trial over these shameful deaths it will not bring anyone back.  But at the very least it will send a message to every politician, today and long into the future, that the UK’s legal system will not tolerate reckless cost-cutting experiments that put human lives at risk.

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A Quarter of Children Living With Both Birth Parents In Unhappy Homes Says Government

Conservative Party Annual ConferenceJust under a quarter of children living with both birth parents are growing up in unhappy homes the DWP have admitted this week.

24% of parents who are bringing up a child born to both of them say that their relationship is unhappy according to figures from the new Family Stability indicator (pdf). 

This set of bonkers statistics has been created as part of Iain Duncan Smith’s attempt to prove that lone parents, step and non-traditional families are one of the causes of poverty and unhappiness. In an embarrassment for the Secretary of State, the numbers actually show that many traditional families are utterly miserable.

IDS ignored this part of the report in a gushing press release last week when he claimed that “A quarter of a million more children were living with both their birth parents in 2012 compared with 2011″.

This represents a rise of 2%, although  little can be drawn from the conclusions of the survey which took place before most of the DWP’s welfare reforms had been implemented.  This hasn’t stopped IDS taking the credit, despite the authors of the report warning that: “Caution is advised in drawing conclusions on trends in the data based on differences between the two years reported on”.

Taking the figures at face value however, one trend does appear to be emerging.  The number of children under 1 year old living with both birth parents has fallen by 6%.  Many of the recent changes to social security, in particular the Benefit Cap, may make staying together a financial impossibility for parents in the lowest income households.  Whilst Iain Duncan Smith is squandering millions producing daft surveys in an effort to confirm his personal prejudices, his policies are almost certain to force some families apart.

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Bare-faced Lies, Bluff and Bullshit Are All Iain Duncan Smith Has Left As Millions Suffer

IDSThe list goes on and on.  The Public Accounts Committee, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Office for National Statistics, the National Audit Office, the Archbishop of Westminster, even the Tory dominated Policy Exchange and coalition partners the Lib Dems, all of these people are wrong or lying said the increasingly bewildered Iain Duncan Smith in a rare appearance on the Sunday Politics this morning (starts at 13.20).

Much of the interview concentrated on the launch of Universal Credit, which has seen just a few thousand people start on the new benefit and tens of millions squandered due to bungled IT systems.  It is difficult to know for sure just how badly the launch of Universal Credit is going wrong, but IDS did admit that the new system will now not be fully in place until 2018.

Whilst Iain Duncan Smith can bullshit his way out of awkward questions on the launch of Universal Credit – mainly because no-one, including him, knows what the fuck’s really going on behind the scenes – he quickly resorted to outright lies when asked about other benefit reforms.

The Work Programme is working according to the Secretary of State, despite the appalling performance figures which are getting steadily worse as time goes on*.  IDS then lied that the companies running the scheme don’t get paid until someone has been in work continuously for six months.  In truth providers receive an up front start fee for everyone who joins the Work Programme. Long term unemployment is falling he then claimed, yet the most recent figures from the ONS show that the number of people who have been out of work for over two years is up 9000 from a year earlier.  He then bluffed that the scheme was better than any programme run by the Labour Government, which would hardly be a ringing endorsement even if it were true, and it isn’t.

On the Bedroom Tax IDS pretended that he didn’t mean it when he hauled the family of a disabled child through the appeal courts in an effort to overturn a ruling on a spare bedroom.  Astonishingly he said he now agreed with the court decision that he spent our money appealing against.  He then claimed that the courts had backed the Government on all the decisions  relating to disabled adults facing the Bedroom Tax, completely ignoring a string of recent benefit tribunal decisions where local authorities lost bedroom tax cases.

On Housing Benefit overall, he lambasted the amount spent on the benefit under Labour whilst avoiding the stark fact that the number of people needing to claim for help with their rent hit an all time high last Summer.  The Housing Benefit bill will only get bigger as less people qualify for social housing under new rules, and even those who have them are forced into the private sector due to the Bedroom Tax.

When quizzed about Tory think-tank the Policy Exchange’s recent mild criticism of benefit sanctions, IDS claimed they’d  got their figures wrong.  In perhaps his most bare-faced lie, he blustered that people who have had benefits sanctioned can ‘immediately’ and ‘straight away’ get a payment from the Hardship Fund.  In truth most claimants have to wait 15 days before Hardship Payments are available (PDF – ref: 35300) and even then not everyone qualifies for this meagre support .  He then claimed the DWP had a billion pounds to support people facing benefit sanctions, including Crisis Loans.  He seems to have forgotten that he abolished Crisis Loans in April last year.

Finally IDS was asked about child poverty, which he repeatedly claimed was falling despite an enormous fucking graph behind his head which showed the exact opposite.  According to IDS this discrepancy is because the IFS, who produced the figures, measure poverty according to the “marginal income line” – in other words how much money someone has.  In future child poverty will be measured according to Iain Duncan Smith’s ever changing personal prejudices.  He says he will produce new figures showing that the number of poor children is actually falling just as soon as he can be bothered to make them up.

Iain Duncan Smith is now barely even pretending to tell the truth as his welfare reforms unravel in every direction.  It is a pitiful sight to watch, but the impact of his delusions are tragic.  People are dying because of Iain Duncan Smith.  Families are becoming homeless and children going hungry, whilst sick and disabled people are being driven to despair.  Rarely has one man’s arrogance caused so much suffering.  There is no more damning indictment of our so-called democracy then a dishonest and callous fool like Iain Duncan Smith being able to claw his way to power over millions of lives.

*the most recent Work Programme figures were sneaked out in the Christmas break and I didn’t have the time to cover them.  They showed that the steady decline in the number of successful job outcomes is continuing.

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More Workfare, More Sanctions, Iain Duncan Smith’s Brutal and Barmy Plan To End Child Poverty

Iain-Duncan-Smith415The Government’s latest child poverty strategy is a blueprint for pushing already struggling single parents into financial destitution with benefit sanctions and workfare.

This year’s five reasons for child poverty are predictably unemployment, along with low levels of qualifications, single parent families, having more than three children and ill health.  Such is Iain Duncan Smith’s desperation to blame children being poor on anything other than not having enough money that this is his fourth re-definition of poverty in just three years.  Previous reasons for poverty, which included step-parents, mothers with mental health problems, being disabled, and of course drugs, no longer make the top five.

The main thrust of the latest strategy is to tackle what is repeatedly referred to as ‘worklessness’ – as if raising children requires no effort at all.  The measures to combat this great social ill – which can mean parents spending time raising their young children instead of working for Tesco – are unpaid work and benefit sanctions.

Lone parents are to face Jobcentre harassment from the time their child is three, with the possibility of mandatory training.  Parents of older children leaving the Work Programme will be sent on the same woefully misnamed ‘Help To Work’ scheme that single unemployed people are to face from April.  For many this will mean workfare, as they are forced to attend Community Work Placements.  Others will be forced to attend the Jobcentre everyday, where they will not doubt spend most of the day in a queue rather than actually looking for a job.

One slip, such as a missed meeting, or being late for ‘work related activity’,  will result in a benefit sanction – one of the real reasons why so many children are living in desperate poverty  Alongside these increased conditions for claiming benefits Iain Duncan Smith is still pretending that Universal Credit will not only happen (stop laughing) but will also magically lift 300,000 children out of poverty overnight.  Mostly this will be done by threatening part time and low paid workers with in-work benefits being stopped if they fail to spend every waking hour they aren’t at work looking for a better paid job.

There is barely anything in this child poverty strategy for children and parents themselves.  Plans to give free school meals to all infant school children had already been announced and simply represents one of increasingly meagre scraps thrown down from the top table to stop Nick Clegg crying at Cabinet Meetings.  Alongside some tinkering with utility bills – which will merely save a handful of families a few pence – other measures for destitute families include keeping down the cost of petrol and building more affordable homes – like the ones built in Stratford last year which charge £323 in rent a week for a two bedroom flat.

Measures to strengthen the minimum wage, also hinted at in the document, have already been torpedoed by the pitiful 3% increase announced this week.  At a time when prices of essentials such as food and fuel are still soaring, in-work benefits, such as Housing Benefits and Tax Credits, will still only rise by 1% this year, a move which the Government themselves admit will drive a further 200,000 children into poverty.  Every poor family will get a little bit poorer from April this year.

In a humiliating blow for Iain Duncan Smith, none of the measures in this strategy will actually mean anything.  The Secretary of State, along with the Lib Dems, had hoped to rewrite the rules by enshrining new definitions of child poverty as official targets.  George Osborne – who couldn’t give a fuck about hungry children but does seem to understand that the main reason for poverty is not having enough money – has recognised this for the bollocks it is and put the brakes on. This will be no relief to struggling parents as the Treasury draws up ever more vicious ways to cut the incomes of the poor.

The lowest income households are now trapped between the wild delusions of the messianic Work and Pensions Secretary and the cut-throat brutality of the Chancellor.  Osborne’s only interest is stealing enough money from the poor to pay for tax cuts for the rich.  Iain Duncan Smith seems  convinced his backwards strategy to blame unemployment on unemployed people and poverty on the poor will magically create enough well paid jobs for everyone to do overnight.  Even the Bedroom Tax and the Benefit Cap – two of the most vicious cuts to social security – will help bring down child poverty according to this latest strategy. Businesses are also to be encouraged to offer more Work Experience places, as if forced unpaid work will somehow put food on the table.

It would be laughable if it weren’t real and you almost couldn’t make it up.  But the real tragedy is that Iain Duncan Smith is making things up, with little regard for either the evidence or the suffering he has already caused.  There will be more poor children because of Iain Duncan Smith, possibly up to a million more.  One man’s arrogance did this, and that must never be forgotten as the social costs of this onslaught resonate throughout future decades.

The strategy is now open to consultation and can be read at: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/child-poverty-a-draft-strategy

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The Not So Hidden Ideology Behind The DWP’s War On Women

Conservative Party Annual ConferenceThe impact on women of austerity policies has often been assumed to be an unfortunate side-effect driven not by ideology but simple bad luck.  Women are more likely to work in the public sector, and therefore were hit harder by mass job losses.  More women than men are single parents, and as such more women have suffered due to the benefit cuts.

Few in mainstream politics have suggested this was intentional – instead the impression given is that this has represented a lack of thought or care about the needs of women.  Undoubtedly the result of a sexist society, but still pretty much business as usual, particularly for the Tory Party.

The reality, which has gone almost unnoticed even during a much discussed feminist revival, is that Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms represent an attack on women’s autonomy which is unprecedented in the UK’s recent history.  And this assault – which by and large only affects women who are poor – is driven by an ugly and out-dated fantasy of Victorian family values which come directly from the mystical beliefs of the Secretary of State himself.

Before the non-election of this Government, a woman in an abusive relationship was able to leave knowing that her and her children would be supported by the social security system.  This support was scant – most lone parents live in poverty – but it was there, no matter where the woman happened to live.  For women in London, that situation has now disappeared due to a cap on benefits which makes much of the capital unaffordable for single parents who are not working, or even those working part time.  Whilst there are still Women’s Refuges and other sources of support, the most fundamental part of the safety net – the guarantee that a woman who leaves a violent partner will have her rent paid in a new property and be able to feed her kids – has vanished.

Prior to this Government’s welfare reforms a woman who became pregnant was able to make an informed decision about how to proceed regardless of her own wealth and the behavior of the father.  Again the future would be little more than a subsistence income unless she was able to find work – but her and her child would be able to eat.  The Benefit Cap, and threats to further cuts on child benefits, mean that for many women the right to choose whether to continue a pregnancy has been effectively dismantled.  If keeping a baby means poverty, homelessness or forced relocation hundreds of miles from friends and family then there is little choice at all.

It may seem perverse that a Government which has threatened to limit access to abortions has also created an situation where a termination may be an economic necessity.  But it is not working class women having babies that so irks the current administration – it is working class women having autonomy over both their lives and sexuality without a man involved.

Earlier this month Iain Duncan Smith gave a speech to the Marriage Foundation, a religiously influenced think tank which claims to promote ‘healthy stable relationships’.  IDS heaped praise on the work of this organisation and its founder Sir Paul Coleridge.  Coleridge is a former High Court Judge who recently resigned after being reprimanded for Judicial Misconduct due to banging on in the press about the sanctity of marriage and the dangers of cohabitation.

Cohabitation is a big deal to these 1950s throwbacks and has led to some appalling assumptions.  According to the Marriage Foundation’s Director of Communications Harry Benson, couples co-habiting, along with women who have separated from a previous partner, are the two “largest predictors of domestic violence”.

Benson believes that domestic violence happens because of “problems in relationships” and that “domestic violence is likely to depend on both structure and quality of the relationship”.  The inference is clear, victims of domestic violence share some responsibility for the abuse.  In 2007, when he made these  comments, Benson was furious the Government didn’t take his rantings seriously blaming them for “pandering to political correctness”.

Benson is not some swivel-eyed crank on the fringes of this debate.  He has also co-authored papers for Iain Duncan Smith’s own think-tank the Centre for Social Justice and was a deputy chair of their family policy group

It is not just women who dare to have a sex life that has not been blessed by God who are under fire from Iain Duncan Smith’s moral crusaders.  The Advisory Board of the Marriage Foundation also includes Nola Leach, CEO of CARE, a Christian organisation who campaigned vigourously against gay marriage.  Sitting alongside her on the board are Dave and Liz Percival, founders of  2-in-2-1 who organise Marriage Week, a ‘celebration of commitment’ which Iain Duncan Smith has helped launch in the past.

Dave and Liz have some useful advice for friends and families of gay people on their website which states: “Some people, upon learning of the homosexuality of someone close, will actually become physically ill and be sick. These violent emotional and physical symptoms are a normal reaction to homosexuality.”

Dave Percival has also contributed to a working group for the Centre for Social Justice.  The influence of this type of divine rhetoric on Iain Duncan Smith was doubtlessly also one reason for his decision to make Phillipa ‘pray away the gay’ Stroud his special advisor shortly after he took over at the DWP.

Beneath the cloak of austerity and welfare reforms lies a nasty and outdated ideology – and one which the Tory Party pretend they have left behind.  The likes of Iain Duncan Smith however have never bought into David Cameron’s attempt to rebrand the Tories as socially liberal kitten huggers.  IDS is on a mission from God to re-establish the male dominated family structure where women know their place and LGBT  or non-traditional relationships are sidelined.

This is why women facing abuse are now at risk of being unable to leave a violent partner.  It is why single mothers have been attacked from all sides by vicious benefit cuts.  And it is why when Universal Credit is finally introduced all payments will go direct to the so called head of a household and not necessarily the person responsible for the primary care of the children.

Of course none of this conflicts with Iain Duncan Smith’s belief that poverty is a moral failing, to be punished with unpaid work and benefit sanctions.  Fallen women, living without a man, will soon face workfare from the moment their child starts school whilst Jobcentre harassment will sometimes begin before their babies are even weaned.  If that doesn’t bring single mothers into line then they will be banished by the Benefit Cap from their communities, forced into lives of poverty and isolation where they know no-one.  Such is the punishment for a life of sin in the eyes of Iain Duncan Smith and his warped little helpers at the Marriage Foundation and the woefully misnamed Centre for Social Justice.

Woman Against Rape will be holding a protest against the Benefit Cap tomorrow (28th January 2014).  Meet outside the Royal Courts of Justice, Strand WC2A 2LL at 9.30am – more info on facebook.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid