Sunday, 9 February 2014

Iain Duncan Smith – incompetent bungler or ideologically-driven, arrogant psychopath?

Oh dear, Iain Duncan Smith is not having a very good time of it lately, is he?  His handling of the flagship change to the welfare system, Universal Credit, couldn’t be more universally discredited as there are IT problems galore, delays and ever-changing completion dates.  The question is, of course, does this show IDS as he is more commonly referred to (in polite circles, at least) to be the most inept, incompetent man on the face of the Earth who is completely out of his depth or does it show him to be a deceitful, arrogant psychopath with a penchant for murderous social engineering?

Of course, IDS has also drawn a vast amount of criticism for the rest of the so-called welfare ‘reforms’ that lend themselves to assigning one or other of our competing titles for the Cabinet member and failed former Conservative Party leader.

According to experts interviewed on a Channel 4 documentary entitled “Psychopath Night” that took a look at psychopathic traits and some of the people who exhibit them, psychopaths have one particular trait – the inability to admit that they are wrong and the tendency to blame everyone else for mistakes.  I mention this in passing as that one fact may well help us in determining what IDS really is.

Let’s start off by examining the current situation regarding Universal Credit...

Universal Credit
On the IT side, software specifically designed for the implementation of Universal Credit does not include all the features needed to be properly implemented and cannot be used to handle claims by couples or people with children.  There is also an issue around the problem that the welfare changes are meant to be sorting out, that of fraudulent claims.  The software for the implementation of Universal Credit, as of September 2013, has no feature to allow for the highlighting of potential fraudulent claims and is therefore completely reliant on costly and impractical manual checks.

As of October 2013, only a miniscule 2,720 people were part of the unfortunate few who were selected as pilot claimants and the cost of the implementation of Universal Credit for that small number is approximately £225,000 for each claimant currently on the trial.  This accounts for £612 million of the total £2 billion budget set aside for the project or almost a third of the entire budget.

A total of £40 million has been wasted so far on the software that is barely able to handle a fraction of the claimants it should be handling by now and a further £90 million is earmarked to bring the software up to the required level to ably handle the requirements of Universal Credit.

One million claimants are supposed to be using the new Universal Credit system by April this year according to projections by the Department for Work and Pensions made back in October 2013.  The system is handling just 2,720 so far.

The target of 6 million claimants using the system by 2017 look set to be missed catastrophically.

A risk assessment report on the project from October 2013 suggested that, if the current raft of problems continued only “a maximum of 25,000 people – just 0.2% of all benefit recipients – will be transferred on to the programme by the next general election”.

The enormity of the colossal cock-up that is Universal Credit and the massive write-off of taxpayer’s cash was brilliantly summed up by a member of a Facebook group called WEAR RED - Stand up and Be counted:

In December 2013 IDS also revealed that a staggering £90 million will be written off by 2018. Again we're not sure how you would spend this on UK infrastructure? But it's painfully obvious that you'd be doing a better job than IDS, even if you chose to make a bonfire out of the cash just to keep your kids warm for an evening. The point being that at least one person had benefited in some small way from your act of madness.”

In a Mirror newspaper article dated 5th February, Shadow Welfare minister Chris Bryant was quoted as having said: 

“Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship policy has been plagued with delay after delay from the outset and millions of pounds have been wasted.

“We were once told Universal Credit would be on time and on budget and that a million people would be on the system by April this year, but this has come to nothing. It is staggering that the Government has spent £225,000 per person on this project.

“With poor initial decisions by Ministers and endless indecision from Downing Street putting the whole scheme in jeopardy, it is increasingly difficult to have any confidence in the Government’s handling of welfare.”

The only response that came from IDS was via a spokeswoman that is the typical non-answer we’ve come to expect from him and the empty statement that everything would be on track by 2017: “If Labour think Universal Credit can be brought in without spending any money up front it’s no wonder they cost taxpayers so much by botching the introduction of tax credits so badly.

“Over 6 million people will be claiming Universal Credit by 2017, which will bring a £35billion benefit to society, and our safe rollout continues with more people claiming every day.”

The DWP select committee affair
IDS hasn’t just upset or offended the members of the public who are both taking notice of what’s going on and have a social conscience, he has taken it upon himself to deliberately withhold information from members of the Select Committee that has the duty to scrutinize his department.  He has also tried to lay the blame for the Universal Credit at the feet of DWP permanent secretary Robert Devereux so that he could wash his hands of his responsibility.

In his piece entitled “Why should we endure this disrespect from a public servant?”, blogger Mike Sivier from Vox Political quoted the words spoken by Commons Work and Pensions committee member Debbie Abrahams to Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith during a clash over Universal Credit and his Department for Work and Pensions’ appalling book-keeping: “I can say with the strongest feeling my concern about the hubris you have demonstrated and your tone to this committee. You haven’t explained – certainly to my own satisfaction, and I am sure anybody that has been watching will draw their own conclusions – you have not made any satisfactory explanation about how you have informed, and kept this committee informed, about the difficulties that the Department was experiencing. There has been obfuscation, smoke-and-mirrors, even up to a few weeks before the report from the National Audit Office. The memorandum that was released in August was clearly saying that everything was fine and dandy. It is, clearly, not. I’ll give you one more opportunity to answer, so you can explain to this committee why there is such poor information provided by your Department.

Duncan Smith’s response shows just how arrogant the man is: “Well, I just don’t agree with you, and I don’t agree that we have done anything else but be open and honest about what the issues are, as and when they have been identified, and what we would do about them, as and when we had made our decisions about that.

IDS showed a shocking lack of respect when asked why he did not inform the committee of the ‘red team review’ of Universal Credit when he gave evidence to the committee back in September 2012, stating that: “With respect, I don’t have to tell you everything that is happening in the Department until we have reached a conclusion about what’s actually happening; I think I will take those decisions myself and account for the decisions that were taken.

Unable to even keep his own story straight in his head IDS got himself in somewhat of a knot when he said that the review had reported back to him in July of that year, so he could actually have made a full and formal account of his actions to the committee, long before September 2012.  He tried to extricate himself by saying that: “It was an internal review.

Dame Anne Begg, Chair of the committee stated that the committee should have been told the plans were being reviewed as a matter of courtesy, and the September committee meeting would have been the perfect opportunity to explain that a review had taken place, “but at that session you were bullish about how successful everything was”, to which Duncan Smith responded: “With respect … I don’t think this committee can run the Department.  As an outside observer, I would have to say to Duncan Smith that I don’t think you can run the department.

Mike Sivier observed in his blog that “Committee members asked questions and Duncan Smith treated them with discourtesy bordering on contempt.”

IDS neatly although not convincingly sidestepped the question of whether the Universal Credit system was still only handling single people (which, of course, it is) and stated that the costs so far were “written down” rather than written off.  For those who aren’t fluent in bullshit, Mike Sivier came to the rescue with the following explanation of “written down”: “meaning they were said to be worth less money now than when they were introduced”.

As delusional as he is, IDS was adamant that he and the DWP had not made any mistakes or committed any wrongdoings despite the fact that his testimony was full of evidence to the contrary.

In one particularly rude exchange, Duncan Smith told Glenda Jackson MP that “I have no idea what you’re asking… You lost me about five minutes ago.” Her reply was to tell Duncan Smith that “You’ll have to try harder” as he rudely muttered that her question “sounds like a foreign language to me”.  Now, judging by one of her appearances on Have I Got News For You, I know that Ms Jackson may get a little confusing at times but she’s hardly speaking a foreign language; however, English may well be a foreign language to Duncan Smith whose main language is delusional bullshit.

Mike Sivier summed up the entire affair quite succinctly: 

The information content of this meeting was zero – or as close to it as possible. What we got was a display of posturing, “hubris” – as Debbie Abrahams rightly identified it – and further obfuscation of the facts.

What the meeting did reveal was everything we need to know about Iain Duncan Smith. Here is a man who understands nothing about being a public servant. He thinks that, sitting in a plush Whitehall office, with civil servants running around clearing up his various disasters, that he is somehow above the rest of us and doesn’t have to justify himself.

He’s completely mistaken. He is there as our servant – to act in a way that suits us, not him. It is disrespectful of him to treat us this way.

“But he just doesn’t get it.

Feel free to gauge IDS’ performance for yourself here:

International Business Times described the affair as “yet another ill-tempered session of a key Commons committee with the minister responsible, Iain Duncan Smith” that fueled fears that the flagship welfare reforms are in “far deeper trouble than suspected”.

Duncan Smith was, according to the piece, “accused of deliberately misleading the committee and attempting to "sweep things under the carpet" after a series of delays and cost write-offs” on his pet project.

Further media speculation on the way Duncan Smith treated the committee members was summed up with the following quote describing the committee members suggestion that: “Duncan Smith was treating them with arrogance and haughtiness while he thought they were not bright enough to understand the detail of his great scheme”.

In a funny addition to the piece in the International Business Times mention was made that in a recent book chancellor George Osborne claimed Duncan Smith was not bright enough for the job.  I think that, Osborne, is something akin to the pot calling the kettle black.  I know it’s a little off-topic but if I can piss off another member of the Government, I’ll take any opportunity that arises.

International Business Times suggested that “while much of the system is not due to come online until after the next election, Duncan Smith may be preparing to stand down in 2015 and, in effect, walk away from it”.  I don’t think IBT really knows what a zealot Duncan Smith really is.  He will not walk away from his task until his mission is complete – the wholesale wiping out of the poor and most vulnerable people in society.

To draw a line under this section, I include this from website Political Scrapbook which highlighted some of IDS’ arrogant attitude in a piece entitled “Arrogant Duncan Smith slammed for evading committee questions” (published on 5th February):

"Following Iain Duncan Smith’s evidence on Monday, DWP select committee member Glenda Jackson brought a fiery point of order in the Commons immediately after PMQs earlier. Jackson highlighted the manner in which the Quiet Man thinks he can talk to MPs asking basic questions about Universal Credit:

“With respect, I don’t have to tell the committee everything that is happening in the department until we have reached a conclusion about what is actually happening.”

“With respect, chairman, I do not think this committee can run the department.”

With IDS claiming he had ”nothing to tell” the MPs about experts drafted in to rescue the IT underpinning his flagship policy, Commons speaker John Bercow confirmed that the job of the DWP Committee is to, errr, scrutinise DWP.”

Other welfare facts
Of course, Universal Credit is not the only change to the welfare system and we should look at some of the other misdemeanours perpetrated by IDS in order to determine whether he’s a bungler or a psychopath.

Blogger Sue Marsh included the following facts in her article entitled “The Big Benefits Row” on her blog Diary of a Benefits Scrounger:

  • Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is being cut by 20%
  • The criteria to qualify for DLA slashed has been by 60%
  • 1 MILLION people are to be stripped of Employment and Support Allowance
  • The Independent Living Fund has been scrapped
  • 1500 people lost their jobs as Remploy factories were all closed
  • Just 3% of the entire welfare budget goes to unemployed people
  • Social security fraud is around £1.2 Billion per year – less than half of 1%, or
  • 0.15% of total welfare budget. That’s just £1.50 lost for every thousand or 0.15% of the total welfare
  • The DWP pay out much more in their own errors – 2.2 Billion
  • A whopping £16 BILLION goes unclaimed, generally to avoid the stigma of “welfare”
  • We have some of the toughest criteria for claiming social security in the developed world.
  • Is our UK social security system too generous? No again. In international terms we come just 46th out of 51, paying some of the lowest benefits anywhere
  • 40,000 sick or disabled people will be hit by the Bedroom Tax. That’s over 2 thirds.

And there are the cases of people who have committed suicide due to benefit changes or having their benefits taken away completely, cases such as Stephanie Bottrill who, it turns out, should have been exempt from the dreaded Bedroom Tax.

Statistics shooting around the internet and the media state that approximately 10,600 people have died shortly after their Atos assessment, approximately 73 people a week.  And I have to say that the facts above hardly lend themselves to the idea that IDS is a bungler.

The Bedroom Tax is a direct attack on the poorest and most vulnerable because it targets only those Housing Benefit claimants who live in social housing.  True, this does bring about a parity between social housing renters and those who rent from the private sector who have had these accommodation size restrictions for a long time but look at it from this point of view – rents in the private sector are significantly higher than in the social sector so, as a cost cutting measure, a size restriction for renters in the private sector makes some kind of sense.  However, social housing rents are already kept low relative to the housing market so are already value for money when calculating Housing Benefit. 

The trouble being caused by the Bedroom Tax is that the number of people who are forced to downsize currently outstrips the number of smaller social housing properties which forces them into the private sector for smaller properties.  This has to be an ideological attack because as a cost cutting measure it fails the basic test – more money will have to be spent out on Housing Benefit due to the higher private sector rents, probably more than will be saved by the Bedroom Tax.

Of course, private landlords will be making out like bandits because of the increased number of people being forced into the private sector and I seriously doubt that there aren’t quite a few Tories who aren’t benefiting from the exodus from social housing to the private sector.

So what’s your verdict?  Is IDS an incompetent bungler or is he an ideologically-driven, arrogant psychopath?  I know which option I choose.

1 comment:

  1. As a rather depressing postscript to this article, although I'm sure my enemies will rejoice at the news, I have to say that I am within two months of losing my benefit completely. As such, I will be unable to feed myself or partake of any of the things that make life bearable so I may well be joining the ranks of the 10,600 people who have had their lives shortened or ended due to the welfare reforms. I wanted to keep the article free from my personal bias so I did not include that fact in the piece.