After the courts ruled DWPs workfare regulations were illegal, Ian Duncan Smith quickly introduced new ones to ensure his spiteful and counter-productive welfare to work schemes could continue unabated. This still left his department open to claims for back-payment of benefits which had been stripped of claimants following them being sanctioned for “not doing enough to find work”. Reportedly, the claims could have amounted to as much as £130m, which assuming an average back-payment of £500, implies that as many as 260,000 people have had their benefits sanctioned illegally.
Rather than do the right thing after months and months of doing the wrong thing, IDS has decided to stick two fingers up to all those people who were given benefits sanctions unlawfully, and is introducing retroactive legislation to ensure DWP is no longer liable to repay any monies to claimants who suffered as a consequence of his department’s incompetence.
The reason given for doing this is to protect taxpayers and also to avoid further welfare cuts to make up the shortfall. This is false though, because we know that nearly every pound going to those at the bottom is spent, and every pound that is spent eventually comes back to the Treasury as tax. There would be no loss to the taxpayer.
No, the real reason for this legislation is to say to those on welfare: “Know your place. You will do what to tell you to do, no matter how unreasonable, and if you don’t like it just stop claiming. We don’t care if you find work or not, just stop being a burden. And don’t try to fight back, you will never win.”
The actions of Cait Reilly and others were heroic, and clearly got IDS rattled. The last thing he and the Government want to see is those at the bottom standing up for their rights and challenging what is being done to them in the name of deficit reduction. It sets a dangerous precedent, and so any means to shut it down becomes necessary, even the introduction of unprecedented emergency laws.
The most shameful part of this story seems to be that the Labour Party looks set to vote through this terrible bill on the nod. After all their bluster about condemning bedroom taxes and other welfare cuts, when it comes to the crunch, it seems like Labour are more than willing to line up behind the establishment and vote against those they were put in Parliament to represent. I hope I am wrong about this and Labour politicians have an attack of the conscience between now and the time of the vote, but I won’t hold my breath.
UPDATE: It now looks as though Labour might abstain in the vote on the legislation, which has the same effect as voting for it, so not a particularly bold move from the official opposition. Sitting on the fence will do nothing for those being screwed by this latest Government shambles.