I’m tired of justifying my existence to Iain Duncan bloody Smith

October 29, 2012 11:10 am

Something I’ve noticed over the past couple of months, both as a councillor and an advice agency worker, is an increase in people hoping for reassurance, rather than specific advice. In the past when I’ve been contacted for advice on welfare benefits, it’s been in response to a specific incident: an ESA50 has come in the post, or a redundancy, or a disability that’s got worse. But recently, I’ve had more and more calls, emails and surgery visits from people who are not sure what to ask me, but have heard about the new under-occupancy rules, or universal credit, or personal independence payments, and want to know how worried they should be. As I’m sure you can imagine, this is not the most fun part of either of my jobs.

While this is clearly due in part to media coverage (and I’m not complaining about that: there’s a difference between ‘scaremongering’ and ‘reporting on things which are going to be scary’), there’s no denying that as well as being misguided and badly thought-out, the majority of the government’s welfare ‘reforms’ are also painfully confusing. Perhaps the most recent example (assuming that the government haven’t, say, scrapped income support altogether in the few hours between me writing this and you reading it) is the letter that about a million families will receive today about changes to their child benefit.

As the Observer noted at the weekend, ‘The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales has warned that most families remain oblivious to the change and confusion could break out when the letters arrive. It is estimated that 500,000 people will have to fill out complicated self-assessment tax returns for the first time.’ So far, so #firstworldproblems – but these changes are nothing to what may come. I’m referring, of course, to Iain Duncan Smith’s ‘kite-flying’ comments last week about proposals to pay child-related benefits, such as child benefit and child tax credits, to the first two children in each family only.

It’s not the first time this government has limited benefits paid in respect of children – the rules around the Sure Start maternity grant were changed earlier this year to limit payments to the first child only, in most cases – but given the scope of this proposed change, the hints of social engineering have not gone unnoticed. In fact this is just the latest example of the government’s attempts to modify behaviour with financial incentives and/or punishments: I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that they were trialling a programme of announcing every crisis loan payment with a ringing bell and measuring claimant salivation rates. Remember the tax breaks for married couples? I’d rather forgotten about them until the Telegraph reported that Ken Clarke may be quietly shelving the idea.

But IDS’s latest suggestions indicate he is still thinking about poverty the wrong way round. Having observed that people who have enough money behave differently to people in poverty, he assumes that if people in poverty start to behave differently, money will start coagulating around them like iron filings on a magnet. His plan seems to be to nudge everyone, trait by trait, into behaving how he would like us to behave: no children until you get married and ‘can afford it’, and then only have two. This ignores three things:

One: This behaviour is irrelevant for a lot of people. We’re not talking about hanging on until you’ve put down a deposit on a house, or saved up for private school fees. If you’re on a low income (and we’re not just talking about people claiming wage-replacement benefits, here, but thousands of working people), neither your marital status nor the passage of time is going to do a damn thing for your take-home pay. Indeed, incomes go up as well as down – despite making so many people redundant, this government stubbornly refuse to recognise that sometimes, people suddenly have less money than they did before. If the message here is ‘do not have any more children than you will definitely be able to feed by yourself if your employer shuts down or your partner dies or you get sick, because if you do we will not help you’, then for a lot of people it is ‘do not have children’. There’s a word for that.

Two: I can’t stress this enough – financial support for families isn’t there as a reward or a penalty for parents who aren’t falling in line with your agenda – it’s for the kids. The bloody kids. This money is for their food and their shoes and the heating in the house where they live. If IDS wants to punish parents, he will punish children, and he needs to remember that.

Regular readers might understand if I take this a tad personally: I’m one of five, and was mostly brought up by my mother. She certainly never chose to be a single parent, she worked when she could, and now that most of us are grown up we work, and…actually, you know what? Screw this. I’m tired of justifying my existence to Iain Duncan bloody Smith. I refuse to accept that my mother ‘ruined the lives of others’, as IDS characterised this behaviour at the weekend, just by being my parent. (No ex-boyfriends or former housemates are invited to comment.) Which brings me to my next point.

Three: if IDS wants to punish parents, then for what? For what? There is nothing illegal or immoral about having more than two children (it’s environmentally unsustainable, certainly, but with an ageing population in this country we’re going to need big numbers in the next few generations, if only to foot the bill for adult social care). While middle-class parents may be characterised as annoying, no-one would dare to castigate them simply for the act of bringing up children, and nor should they. Bringing up children well is an expensive public service – ask any local authority. What makes a family work is not how many children are being cared for or how many parents are doing the caring, but the quality of care. With that in place, our – and Duncan Smith’s – only concern should be making sure they have enough money to do it.

  • AlanGiles

    Duncan-Smith (who left “office”, such as he was in it,  as leader of his party this day nine years ago – 29/10/03) is a disgusting example of a modern politician, sanctimonious, preachy and tainted by his own behaviour in the expenses scandal. He set up his organisation after being booted out of the leadership, ostensibly to appear to be “doing good”. Of course he does quite the opposite.

    But – I am sorry to say I suspect there are some right wing Labourites who feel the same way about things as he does, where welfare is concerned  but just wouldn’t dare say it. It’s another issue like law and order  and defence where the stance of Labour is to want to appear to be as tough as the Tories.

    I wonder what Frank Field, a mate of Smith’s,  thinks about it?

    • PaulHalsall

      The interesting thing is the IDS, supposedly a Catholic, is advocating for a policy which will induce poorer women, if they get pregnant, to have an abortion *against their choice* for purely monetary reasons.

      • AlanGiles

        Hello Paul, I didn’t realise Smith was a Catholic, which makes his posturing even more hypocritical. Mind you after the CV scandal and “Betsygate” nothing surprise me about how low he will stoop.

        • PaulHalsall

          Yep.  

          See the discussion at

          http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17235

          As well as assessing IDS, the article points to a very interesting chart showing the misinformation about the cost of welfare that is repeatedly spewed by the right wing media, the Tory Party, and some on the right of the Labour Party.

          “As a percentage of GDP, however, welfare spending is now much lower than it was in the 1980’s so the welfare ‘burden’ is not out of control.”http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk/spending_chart_1970_2015UKp_11s1li111mcn_F0t40t

      • Serbitar

        Speaking about Catholics… is IDS suggesting that the unemployed amongst the 5 million or so Roman Catholics in the UK (about one in twelve of us) use contraceptive methods forbidden by the Church to make “choices” about limiting the number of children they have in (or out of) wedlock? Or even, as you say, implying that good unemployed Catholic women should consider terminating pregnancies if under threat of giving birth to a third child while on benefits.

        I believe that IDS has FOUR children himself.

        As far as “living off the state” is concerned best this miserable old faker puts his own house in order before rearranging the furniture in the houses of the poorest of the poor… or taking their furniture away… or making them homeless when their Housing Benefit is cut next April.

        Check out the article via the hyperlink below.

        http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/why-iain-duncan-smith-should-look-1400558

  • charles.ward

    “Three: if IDS wants to punish parents, then for what? For what? There is
    nothing illegal or immoral about having more than two children …”

    There most definitely is something immoral about having more children than you can afford and depending on others to pay for you to bring up those children. 

    I’m amazed I have to point this out.

    • Serbitar

      To me it is far more immoral to deliberately seek to impoverish innocent babies and children because their parents have behaved in some way or other that you choose to disapprove of. Children do not ask to be born. Children do not pick their parents. In my view every child born of woman is blameless and innocent and should not be made to suffer because of the way they are conceived.

      No babe in arms should suffer for their parent’s sins.

      • charles.ward

        Unfortunately this means that the taxpayer is held to ransom by irresponsible parents who give no thought to how they will feed and clothe their own children.

        If you reward irresponsibility and punish responsibility then don’t be surprised when irresponsibility becomes the norm.  Some might say that this has already happened.

        People who bring children into the world without the means of looking after them are just as guilty of neglect as those who have the means but choose to neglect their children.  It is not everybody else’s fault that these children are neglected and your attempt to shift the blame to the rest of society because we do not gladly hand over our money to the irresponsible will not work.

        • Alexwilliamz

          Do you honestly think the benefits talked about are rewards especially when you have effectively saddled yourself with a number of kids who you may or may not be able to cope with. Perhaps as a nation we need to work out how to give people at the bottom a better vision of the future than trapped in some kind of benefit dependency if that is what you think the case is? But then who could the tories blame for all of society’s ills?

        • robertcp

          Isn’t it strange that the number of lazy and irresponsible people increases whenever we have a recession?  

          Have you actually ever been on benefits?  In my twenties, I went from being unemployed to a low paid job.  I was better off in that job than when I was unemployed.   

        • AlanGiles

          However you try to paint it, Charles, what you are saying, in effect, is that the baby who has bad luck to be  born as number 3 in Duncan-Smith’s fantasy world, or the baby born to an unmarried mother, who “didn’t take precautions” (which I believe the Pope does not allow in the religion Smith apparently follows) should pay for the “shortcomings” of the parents.

          Perhaps we are far too sentimental, and we should just treat babies like people, still, –  to their shame sometimes treat kittens and drown them.

          Also, of course, one day that baby will grow up and he or she might well become a great assett to the country. I wonder how many soldiers, for example, who fought the wars the last two governments have supported, at a cost of billions of pounds, happen to have been born out of wedlock or as a third or fourth child to poor parents? – come to that any job that is of more use than that performed by Duncan-Smith and the rest of his useless colleagues.

          • jimcrowder

            The Pope may not permit contraception, but he doesn’t permit sex unless it is within marriage for the purpose of procreation. If someone is a Catholic, they just don’t have sex (at all?).

        • Brumanuensis

          I’m so glad you’re happy to have children suffer for your moral principles. I think it was Jeremy Thorpe who commented about Macmillan’s ‘Night of the Long Knives’, “greater love hath no man than this, but to lay down his friends for his life”. Of course, I doubt you’ve bothered to examine whether or not capping benefits would actually decrease poverty or encourage ‘responsibility’ – hint, it w0n’t: http://legalworkshop.org/2011/04/13/welfare-family-cap - or perhaps even briefly considered why, if lower income automatically acts to restrict fertility, families in developing countries are considerably more likely to have larger families.
           
          But of course we must be ‘responsible’, pour encourager les autres. Children must suffer for the sins of the mother/father! Otherwise you’ll only encourage the bastards. There’s a word for people like you, but I’m not allowed to write it on this website.

          • charles.ward

            “Children must suffer for the sins of the mother/father! Otherwise you’ll only encourage the bastards.”

            But there’s the problem.  What do you do if the parents don’t look after their children properly.  Say you give the parents generous benefits for their children and they spend it on fags and booze instead.  Well the children cannot suffer so you give them more money, the parents get Sky and the children get nothing.  So you give them more money, and so on and so on.

            Where does it end?

          • Brumanuensis

            Do you have any evidence that vast numbers of parents are spending child benefit on fags and booze, Charlie, or are you just being a Jeremy Hunt again?

          • charles.ward

            If you think those on benefits don’t drink or smoke I would suggest that it’s you who has his head in the sand.

            But anyway, I was giving a hypothetical example to demonstrate that if you will do anything to prevent children growing up in relative poverty you will end up giving the most benefits to the least deserving and the least responsible.

            When you reward irresponsibility that is what you will encourage.

          • Brumanuensis

            So no, you have no hard evidence. You just have your ‘hypotheticals’ and a straw man about how apparently I don’t believe people on benefits drink and smoke (re-read my question: I asked if you had proof that parents in receipt of child benefit were routinely spending it on alcohol and cigarettes).

          • charles.ward

            This includes a breakdown of the rate of smoking by social group.  There is a much higher proportion of smokers in the lower socioeconomic groups (i.e. those more dependent on child benefit to provide for their children).

            From the PDF:

             “There is a gradient in smoking prevalence with social class. In social class I around 15% of men and 14% of women smoke cigarettes. In social class V smoking prevalence reaches 45% for men and 33%
            for women. However this obscures the very high levels observed among the most deprived groups, where smoking prevalence reaches
            over 70%, and is about 90% in homeless people sleeping rough.”

            Here is some data on alcohol consumption and socioeconomic group that shows that although there is slightly lower alcohol consumption for those in lower socioeconomic groups they are hardly teetotal and probably spend a larger proportion of their income on alcohol than those in higher socioeconomic groups.

            I’m sure there is better data out there but I don’t feel like spending any more time researching the obvious.

            But you still haven’t answered my main point.  If some parents don’t spend their benefit money on their children but rather spend it on themselves would you just keep giving them more and more money?

            If you believe that the welfare of the child is all that matters then you arrive at the situation where you reward irresponsible parents more than responsible ones.  Moral hazard anyone?

          • Serbitar

            The data you offer is meaningless as far as your argument goes particularly as the data applies quite generally to populations of employed people rather than solely the unemployed people that IDS is targeting.

            The fact that poorer people tend to smoke and drink more than wealthier people doesn’t imply that unemployed parents with more than two children spend child benefit received from state on vices like alcohol, or cigarettes, or Sky television.

            As far as I know there isn’t one shred of evidence to show that in the vast majority of cases child benefit received by claimants doesn’t go to help nourish and clothe the child as intended.

            Do you really believe that certain women submit to be repeatedly impregnated in order to claim an extra £13.40 a week for every additional child born alive?

            Can you really be that hopelessly naive or that prejudiced? 

            I believe I’m correct in saying that about 90% of unemployed benefit claimants have two or fewer children and so the idea that a few extra tens of pounds of child benefit a week induces women to become Queen bee-like baby factories, squeezing out children like there is no tomorrow, isn’t borne out statistically.

          • charles.ward

             Perhaps you would like to provide a single piece of evidence supporting your position that parents that put their own needs above those of their children don’t exist.

            And how about telling us how you avoid the moral hazard in throwing money at the most irresponsible so their children don’t suffer?

      • Hugh

         “every child born of woman is blameless and innocent”

        You don’t have kids then?

        • Serbitar

          Did yours start running riot as soon as their umbilical cord was cut?

          Stop messin’ about!

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/JP42QNYATVR2UKDJIUXUEV6RNY Michael

      Oh yes, Iain Duncan Smith, he of the Centre for Social Injustice, the latest in a long line of Tories who wish to stigmatize and oppress the poor. Remember Keith Joseph? Smith is a little more subtle, though. He says he wants to move people off benefit and into work. Really? What work? Thousands of jobs at industries throughout Britain are being lost every week by Iain Duncan Smith’s government’s disastrous economic policies.  The Welfare State was established on the principle that the majority who were in work would pay taxes to provide a safety net for those who weren’t.  Tories and the Taxpayers alliance  want to turn this principle on its head and suggest that the people who are in work wouldn’t have to pay taxes if the people who needed help weren’t sponging on them: this is a disgraceful distortion of reality. I even heard a Tory charmer on T.V. recently assert that “if you can’t feed ‘em don’t breed ‘em.”  So, the message from Iain Duncan Smith and others on the Right is that if you are rich you can have as many children as you like and if you are poor you can’t.  And this is what IDS calls fairness? It is an outrageous affront to human rights. When my grandfather was out of work in the 1930s the Tories and their means test told him and his family to get rid of  the piano. Now, I suppose, it would be get rid of your children! Thankfully, Labour  are,  according to the most recent COMRES poll, still 11% ahead of the Tories and with a projected commons majority of 114.  That’s why now more than ever, in these times when anyone could lose their job, Labour  should be reminding everybody about the founding principles of the Welfare State and that the myth of benefit scroungers is promulgated by those who wish to destroy the Welfare State and put welfare distribution in the hands of  parasites in profit making  companies.

  • Dave Postles

    Thanks for all the invaluable work that you are doing.  We all owe you an immense debt of gratitude.  Thank you once again.

  • http://www.futureeconomics.org Diarmid Weir

    Quite. This appalling idea cannot be represented as anything other than an attempt to prevent the poor from having children! Sure, some of the poor – like some of the better-off – make bad parents and their children don’t add to the welfare of others. But if that’s the criteria then let’s start screening prospective parents – whatever their wealth status.

    Brave New World, IDS-style – here we come!

    • Winston_from_the_Ministry

      They can still have as many children as they like though… so nothing at all like it really.

  • Quiet_Sceptic

    Some poverty is caused by people’s behavior and the decisions they make and the decision on when to have children is a key element of that.

    Take people under 20, few of them are likely to be able to afford to raise a child at that age but the majority would have a much better chance of providing and supporting a child when they are 25 or 35. Those extra 5, 10, 15 years of education, training, earning, job progression and saving make a huge difference.

    The alternative of having a child very young actively works against their future success, it takes them out of education, imposes huge burdens both financial and emotional, is likely to restrict their flexibility and limit their career.

    • Monkey_Bach

      I cannot see how impoverishing people can overcome biology and prevent them from having large families. Around the world in countries like India, Africa and South America, where contraception exists and no welfare state to speak of is there to help anybody the poorest of the poor often have very large numbers of children born to suffer malnutrition and disease. Eeek. Much the same thing could be said of Victorian England where the poor usually had very large families despite the fact that no welfare state existed. Eeek.

      I may be a monkey but I really do not believe that really poor and disadvantaged people crack open their laptops and spreadsheets, sit around a table, and rationally plan their futures based on their income and expenditure. Eeek. Such people may be in and out of work with fluctuating fortunes and not be a position to predict what may happen to them with any certainty and so I do not believe that penalising men and women for conceiving more than two children while unemployed will be sufficient to “encourage” them to “plan” their families in the way that foolish old IDS believes. Eeek.

      All that will happen if IDS is daft enough to pursue this policy, which probably will never see the light of day anyway, is that children will continue to be born as they have always been born, but will be born to suffer much greater privation than before. Eeek.

      Humans aren’t dogs. Eeek.

      You can’t train them to do tricks for you using treats and punishments.

      • Quiet_Sceptic

        I made a specific response to Grace’s point that poverty is not driven by behaviour when in fact in many cases it is. Clearly if you decide to have lots of children or have children when very young or unemployed or on a low income then you’re more likely to be poor as a result of your behaviour. That isn’t an attack, it’s just stating the obvious.

        Whether IDS’s proposals are an effective way of changing behaviour I don’t know but that’s a separate issue.

        • Monkey_Bach

          Fair dos.

          Wouldn’t it be ironic though if popish IDS ended up blighting and ruining the lives of far more children because of his “reforms” than notorious Jimmy Savile did by actual physical abuse! Eeek.

          As far as welfare goes can we really say that: Iain’ll Fix It?

          I don’t think so. 

          Not in a million years.

          Eeek.

  • robertcp

    Anybody who has more children to get more benefits is too stupid to work out that having a child costs money, so they will not be any better off.   Shouldn’t a Cabinet minister have more sense?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/JP42QNYATVR2UKDJIUXUEV6RNY Michael

    Oh yes, Iain Duncan Smith, he of the Centre for Social Injustice, the latest in a long line of Tories who wish to stigmatize and oppress the poor. Remember Keith Joseph? Smith is a little more subtle, though. He says he wants to move people off benefit and into work. Really? What work? Thousands of jobs at industries throughout Britain are being lost every week by Iain Duncan Smith’s government’s disastrous economic policies.  The Welfare State was established on the principle that the majority who were in work would pay taxes to provide a safety net for those who weren’t.  Tories and the Taxpayers alliance  want to turn this principle on its head and suggest that the people who are in work wouldn’t have to pay taxes if the people who needed help weren’t sponging on them: this is a disgraceful distortion of reality. I even heard a Tory charmer on T.V. recently assert that “if you can’t feed ‘em don’t breed ‘em.”  So, the message from Iain Duncan Smith and others on the Right is that if you are rich you can have as many children as you like and if you are poor you can’t.  And this is what IDS calls fairness? It is an outrageous affront to human rights. When my grandfather was out of work in the 1930s the Tories and their means test told him and his family to get rid of  the piano. Now, I suppose, it would be get rid of your children! Thankfully, Labour  are,  according to the most recent COMRES poll, still 11% ahead of the Tories and with a projected commons majority of 114.  That’s why now more than ever, in these times when anyone could lose their job, Labour  should be reminding everybody about the founding principles of the Welfare State and that the myth of benefit scroungers is promulgated by those who wish to destroy the Welfare State and put welfare distribution in the hands of  parasites in profit making  companies.

  • Brumanuensis

    “This includes a breakdown of the rate of smoking by social group. There is a much higher proportion of smokers in the lower socioeconomic groups (i.e. those more dependent on child benefit to provide for their children).

    Here is some data on alcohol consumption and socioeconomic group that shows that although there is slightly lower alcohol consumption for those in lower socioeconomic groups they are hardly teetotal and probably spend a larger proportion of their income on alcohol than those in higher socioeconomic groups”.

    Once again you fail to answer to my question. Let’s just remind ourselves what I asked:

    ‘Do you have any evidence that vast numbers of parents are spending child benefit on fags and booze”.

    To which you’ve given me a statistical overview of smoking and alcohol-consumption habits by socio-economic group. Lovely, but not an answer. It’s circumstantial evidence at best and wouldn’t stand up in a court of law. You haven’t demonstrated that people in those groups are diverting resources primarily intended for their children to their personal use for smoking and drinking. The only reason you feel entitled to make that assumption is because you’ve conditioned yourself to believe that the poor are feckless and lazy, ergo they must be using child benefit to buy themselves cigarettes and alcohol. 

    “But you still haven’t answered my main point. If some parents don’t spend their benefit money on their children but rather spend it on themselves would you just keep giving them more and more money?”

    That’s a question along the lines of ‘have you stopped beating your wife yet?’ If I answer, I accept your premise, which I’m not going to do. No dice.

    “If you believe that the welfare of the child is all that matters then you arrive at the situation where you reward irresponsible parents more than responsible ones. Moral hazard anyone?”

    First, that assumes that irresponsible parents are more common, which is a pretty feeble attempt at an argument, especially when you present no supporting evidence.

    Second, I know what moral hazard is, Charlie. Moral hazard isn’t the be all and end all of social policy though. Insurance on bank deposits is a form of moral hazard, as is the wearing of seat-belts – if people are less likely to die in accidents, so the logic would go, they’ll take less care when driving. Simply calling something moral hazard doesn’t prove your point. In extremis, I’d rather that a few irresponsible parents were rewarded than many innocent children forced to suffer for someone’s idea of moral purity. The fact you’re so blase about this prospect suggests that you can’t contemplate being in this position and therefore have nothing to relate to when breezily passing moral judgement over degenerates who receive welfare.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Willow-Jacky/672926886 Willow Jacky

    so I take it you all want to attack anyone who’s partner suddenly dies and they find themselves a single parent due to death?… Your not allowed to die you have kids.

    I also take it your not allowed to lose your jobs due to the government and banks not supporting british industry and woe betide your disabled and have kids and used to work at remploy full time.. oh dear me..

    I take it from the comments here that the British are basically becoming a very sick and inward and ignorant race these days with comments that have been made with out a grain of common sense added…

  • Serbitar

    I may be missing something here but are you saying that unemployed married Catholics should be allowed to have as many children as God give to them and receive child benefit for each child born in holy wedlock to the couple, while unemployed non-Catholic mothers should have their entitlement to child benefit capped at a maximum of two children?  

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