Monday 21st March
For the last almost six years IDS has been reviled in Labour circles. My Facebook was littered with messages saying he was causing suicides and ruining countless poor people’s lives. And yet now he is presenting himself as the saviour of the poor and disabled whose best efforts were constantly scuppered by Osborne’s mad Austerity drive. So what is the truth? Somewhere in the middle probably. After his disastrous spell as leader of the Opposition, when he was unceremoniously dumped and Michael Howard replaced him, he seems to have had some sort of Damascene conversion. He says that he decided that all he now wanted to do was to change the very nature of Welfare and to give poor unfortunate unemployed people a life of dignity and hope.
Maybe he was always in the wrong party, though I hardly think he was ever Labour material. But in a way he had a point; and that was that for far too many people Welfare has become a way of life. He identified that one of the main reasons for this was the disparity between what a family could receive on Benefits and what they could realistically earn, even if they could actually get a job. “Why work, when you can get more from the state.” This is the common perception, and there may indeed be a stubborn core which refuses to contemplate the idea of getting off benefits and into work. There are I am sure several (though not as many as the Daily Mail would have us believe) Benefit cheats, who at the very least play the system for all they can get. Just as at the top of the tree there are some Private Businessmen who work for cash and do not pay their taxes, or try to evade them in every way. Most Benefit Claimants are simply unfortunate people who have fallen on hard times and cannot escape. IDS’s big plan was to make work pay. But Labour had been trying to do that too for years, and it isn’t as simple as that. He used the carrot and an awful lot of stick to try to get people off Benefits and into work, often with terrible consequences for the individuals concerned.
A large part of the problem was that at the same time as he was introducing massive changes to the Benefits system he was also part of a Government hell-bent on cutting both taxes and spending. Had the sort of changes he was contemplating been tried when money was available to properly assess every claimant and decide exactly how they could best be helped then there might have been a chance of success, but with every financial squeeze it has become harder and finally IDS has quit. We may never know the true reasons for his resignation, but I find it hard to believe that for almost six years he went along with all the cuts and then the true Socialist in him could take it no longer.
The good news is that he has at last exposed Austerity for what it really is, a hatred of Public Service and Public Spending at all. The deficit could have been reduced far faster with a dose of good old-fashioned tax-rises, but that was anathema for Osborne, he saw cuts as the only way forward, with predictably terrible consequences. And if it now suits IDS to dress in the clothes of a true social reformer and helper of the poor, okay – but I don’t believe a word of it.