The surprise resignation of Iain Duncan Smith, the former Work and Pensions Secretary, was met in most cases with a sense of bewilderment. Infamous for his assault upon society’s most vulnerable, he cited proposed cuts to personal independence payments as the principal reason behind his decision. But in spite of the temptation, IDS’ resignation is not a cause for celebration, for two reasons.
The first is that the damage has already been done. Yes, his departure from the Cabinet limits what further work he could have done to make life harder for those already struggling as a result of his ruthless approach to welfare. But the reforms sanctioned by the Department of Work and Pensions under his guidance remain. The introduction of the under occupancy penalty, otherwise known as the ‘bedroom tax’, for example, was not only morally reproachable in targeting the livelihoods of the disabled community, but also failed to achieve its political purpose – numbers of those affected were overestimated, decreasing the forecasted amount saved by almost £100 million.
Add to this the lowering of the benefits cap, now deemed illegal in its failure to exempt disabled people’s carers, and the long-lasting impact of his Welfare Reform Act becomes strikingly clear: the impoverishment and marginalisation of a minority group reliant upon welfare payments. There can be no celebration of Duncan Smith’s resignation as long as these measures remain in place.
Indeed, the vacancy has already been filled. His replacement is another of the many reasons why little will change now that IDS has resigned. Stephen Crabb, MP for Preseli, has become the newest member of Cameron’s cabinet. Carrying on in the same vein as his predecessor, Crabb made the incredibly insensitive, highly damaging remark on his Facebook page that those with illnesses such as Parkinson’s and motor neurone disease are in fact able to work, in spite of their conditions.
But actions, as they say, speak louder than words. So be it. Crabb, throughout his parliamentary career, has repeatedly voted against increasing benefits over prolonged periods of time for those with disabilities or long-term illness, whilst voting on numerous occasions in favour of cutting spending on welfare. This latter tendency includes his support for the removal of the Education Maintenance Grant in England. On the ‘question’ of same-sex marriage, IDS’s replacement in 2013 cast a vote rejecting the introduction of same-sex marriage into the legal framework. All the details of Crabb’s voting history can be easily found at www.theyworkforyou.com.
The recurring theme across these records is a commitment to the protection of higher earners, to the complete detriment of progressive policy on welfare or social equality. At a time when almost one in six children are in poverty in the UK, when the number of people using food banks surpassed one million last year, and when almost one in five people in families with a disabled member are living in relative income poverty, Crabb’s arrival is hugely worrying.
The Department for Work and Pensions must recognise that their work since 2012 has only worsened the gross inequality at the heart of British society. Such statements from Crabb as the one mentioned above, or IDS’s notorious claim that he could live off £53 in benefits a week, are illustrative of the dangerous inability to understand the pitiful reality of those for whom benefit payments are nothing short of essential.
Whether Duncan Smith has gone or not changes very little. An austerity-driven agenda remains the priority of a Tory majority government, and as long as this is the case, the success of policy on welfare will be compromised.
Image credit: Gordon Wrigley