When I used to write letters to ministers for a living, it struck me that Damian Green was relatively decent. Well, if you ignore the appalling voting record, the missives we got back from the civil servant who scribbled his letters in immigration suggested he was a reasonable bloke, albeit one hemmed in by the politics he chose to associate himself with. This was entirely of a different character to his predecessor at the Department for Work and Pensions. Iain Duncan Smith’s letters cadenced his cruelty with evangelism and zealotry. Now Damian Green has taken over from the execrable IDS, in a rare Tory concession to decency he has announced the government will no longer subject the chronically ill to repeat work capability assessments. Good. Continue reading
There is an unsavoury episode in the parliamentary history of Ian Duncan Smith that he will be hoping people will have forgotten. This concerns Dr Vanessa Gearson, who IDS appointed as his Chief of Staff for part of his time as Tory Leader (prior to this Dr Gearson worked as Private Secretary to the Chair of the Tory Party).
On 16th October 2003, Dr Gearson gave a long and very detailed written statement to the House of Commons Select Committee on Standards and Privileges. This concerned “the matter of the investigation into the employment of Betsy Duncan Smith”. Dr Gearson had been surprised to discover that Mrs Duncan Smith was employed for 25 hours a week at £18,000 per annum, paid for out of IDS’s Parliamentary Office Costs Allowance. Continue reading
The report that in just over 2 years up to February last year no less than 2,380 disabled claimants died within 2 weeks of being assessed as fit for work and then having their benefit either reduced or stopped altogether, is beyond shocking. It is arguably the most damning statistic yet of the sheer callousness and brutality of this government towards the most helpless victims in our society. But there are further profound issues behind this dreadful story. The most important issues are holding to account those who are responsible for this utter tragedy and even more important still, the power to stop this lethal policy in its tracks. On both there is at present a vacuum. Continue reading
Occasionally the mask slips and the truth becomes clear. We had already been told that the Tories planned to limit child benefit to the first two children because it would save money. Then IDS (Iain Duncan Smith) let the cat out of the bag: he said it would promote “behavioural change”. This element in the Tory DNA – that the poor are over-dependent on benefits and should have their breeding excesses curtailed – has quite a history. Keith Joseph made a pitch for the Tory leadership in 1974 with this appeal: “
A high and rising proportion of children are being born to mothers least fitted to bring children into the world… Some are of low intelligence, most of low educational attainment….The balance of our human stock is threatened.”
It now emerges that Labour did a secret deal with the DWP that the latter would set up an independent inquiry into the use of sanctions against job-seekers in return for Labour supporting emergency legislation – the Jobseekers (Back-to-Work Schemes) Bill which passed all its stages in the Commons last Tuesday – which established the government’s right to re-impose mandatory work activity (forcing someone to work for no pay on pain of otherwise having their benefits withdrawn) which had been struck down in the High Court a few weeks earlier.
If this is true, it is a despicable deal: Labour should never have supported the re-imposition of such legislation whatever the quid pro quo. Worse still, Labour has already sold the pass in exchange for a nebulous offer which remains entirely within the gift of the government. It’s the government which will decide the terms of reference, choose the chair and members for the inquiry, decide the timescale, and decide whether or not to accept any of the recommendations, assuming we ever get to that stage. Continue reading