Iain Duncan Smith - Joblessness is a 'sin'

Posted on: 15 November 2010 by Alexander Hay

As the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions denounces turning down a job as a sin, what does the media have to say?

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Last week's declaration by IDS was widely reported, but what has the response been in the media?

In the Daily Mail, Peter Hitchens accuses him of not going far enough:

But his colleagues forbade him to think about the real problem. This is that, since the catastrophic Labour Government of 1964-1970, the welfare state has deliberately encouraged parasitism, as well as flooding the country with professional social workers.

Nor can he actually do anything about the suicidal subsidy to single-mother families, which has helped destroy fatherhood and wreck our society.

So the IDS scheme will not work, and is certainly not the ‘historic’ document the servile BBC makes it out to be. But for a while it will stave off demands for a real reform. And when we wake up to the truth, we will be another dozen irrecoverable steps down the dark and crumbling stairway that leads to national extinction.

Meanwhile, in The Independent, Johann Hari angrily decries the notion:

Spare me the claims that Iain Duncan Smith, who lives in a million-pound mansion inherited by his wife’s aristocratic family, is “kind” and his reforms are “well-intentioned”: triggering an exodus of poor people from their friends and schools and neighbourhoods in our great cities and forcing them to live in concrete blocks of poverty far beyond is so unkind even Boris Johnson hyperbolically calls it “Kosovo-style social cleansing.”

Over at The Guardian, Michael White saw IDS's views as just more of the same:

What the work and pensions secretary was actually trying to do was get the unemployed, the poor, disabled and fraudulent back to work via an exotic cocktail of carrots, sticks and withdrawn tapers. "There will be no losers," IDS kept saying. Apart from "no more boom and bust" and "I will resign if this goes wrong", it is the most reckless sentence a politician can utter.

While Mary Riddell at The Telegraph wonders if his plans have any credence at all:

...Many IDS assertions are questionable or mistaken... A remedy based on getting people into work can only succeed where work exists. There are grave doubts over whether the private sector can produce two million vacancies or whether jobless public sector staff will be in any position to hop aboard the Duncan Smith bus and find work elsewhere.

The shift towards a US-style punitive system, under which the recalcitrant are left to starve, is also ill-starred. Professor Lawrence Mead, the American academic who pioneered "workfare" and has visited David Cameron, is a good-time guru. As the economy flourished, US Democrats and Republicans united in blaming welfare for society's ills, including gang violence and teenage pregnancies.

Claims dropped by two-thirds, and Bill Clinton boasted of helping a generation out of poverty. Now, with millions thrown out of work, the supposedly shiftless "welfare queens", America's struggling lone mothers, are back at the bottom of society and labelled as "drawer people" whose stories are logged in dusty case files that never shift from the welfare manager's in-tray. What looked good in boom-time Wisconsin will seem cruel in slump-hit Walsall.

And this is what my blog post has to say on the matter:

If you want people to get off the dole or not sign on in the first place, you need to address a range of other problems. Like low wages for often difficult and unpleasant jobs. Or taxes on the low-paid and small businesses. Yet we take a perverse pride in keeping the cost of labour down. It's easier to threaten people instead.

There is something else that's wrong with IDS's stance. Like New Labour, he still thinks that people can be made good. Trying to slap people out of their problems never works though - Workhouses are testimony to that. This measure will too because it will either end in civil unrest or a surge in crime. In the end, one can only allow people to be good if they choose. Money saved on benefits will soon be spent on more prisons instead.

What do you think? Leave a comment below or discuss it on the forums.

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Alexander Hay

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