Iain Duncan Smith defies all logic (again). And then there’s Liam Byrne…

Iain Duncan Smith was interviewed for today’s Sunday Telegraph, and is sounding increasingly deranged. Under ever increasing pressure to reduce the welfare bill (an impossible task given the Coalition’s fiscal stance), Smith appealed to wealthy pensioners to ‘hand back their benefits’ if they didn’t need them. So rather than changing the rule on universal benefits (which is a bad idea in itself), he is resorting to trying to make little old ladies feel guilty about their winter fuel payments as though it is costing the nation billions (it’s not). That’s not what I wanted to write about today though. Duncan Smith also said this:

“We want to say to people, you’re claiming unemployment benefit but you’re actually in work paid for by the state: you’re in work to find work. That’s your job from now on: to find work.”

Duncan Smith’s tried this line before. We people objected to job seekers being forced to work for nothing in Poundland he said (of Caitlin Reilly):

“She was being paid for it (working at Poundland), what do you think the taxpayer was paying her for God’s sake? Her job seekers allowance. The taxpayer is paying her wages.”

IDS persists with this idea that the unemployed need to be constantly harassed to get off their lazy arses and look for work, and it informs every aspect of the Coalition’s employment policy. The elephant in the room though is always the tyranny of the maths – 2.5 million unemployed is a much bigger number than the (less than) 500,000 vacancies currently available.

Duncan Smith’s views on unemployment and the unemployed just doesn’t stand up to more than 5 seconds scrutiny, so it got me wondering if maybe he just hasn’t met many unemployed people, and I thought I’d see if there was a negative correlation between an MPs view on unemployment and the unemployment rate in their constituency. Maybe if unemployment is very low where your voters live, it informs your view on the problem and those who are unemployed? So I downloaded the March 2013 JSA claimant rates from Nomis by constituency to see how much of an issue unemployment is in the constituencies of Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet MPs. Here’s the average claimant rate in Cabinet and Labour front-bench constituencies:

JSA Claimant Rate

The claimant rate nationally is currently 3.9%, but in the constituencies of the Coalition “Cabinet of millionaires”, the average rate is just 2.2%, while in the constituencies of Labour front-benchers the average rate is 5.2%, much higher than the national average. Looking at the rates in individual Cabinet Minister’s constituencies we see a pretty common pattern. Unemployment in the constituencies of Cabinet members is typically very low – David Cameron, 1.4%; Nick Clegg, 1.5%; George Obsorne, 2.0%; Theresa May, 1.8%; Michael Gove 1.7% etc. So it may be that in these parts of the country the issue of unemployment is secondary to other issues like planning, wind farms etc. So my hypothesis that low unemployment at home leads to skewed attitudes towards the issue looks plausible.

There are in fact only two members of the Cabinet who have above average levels of unemployment in their constituencies – Welsh Secretary David Jones (who he?) and – wait for it – Iain Duncan Smith! I was surprised to discover that in Chingford and Woodford Green, 4.2% of the working age population are in receipt of JSA. So if Duncan Smith spends any time in his constituency at all, it must be obvious that not all of these people can be lazy scroungers and that there must be an issue around a lack of jobs. Does he think the people of Witney (Cameron’s constituency) are all “hard-working families who want to get on”, while his constituents are all skivers and scroungers? Only someone wilfully blind could dismiss the lack of jobs as the problem and instead blame the attitude of individuals couldn’t they?

But what of Labour? We saw above that unemployment is significantly higher in Labour constituencies than Coalition ones. Does that mean they have more empathy with those who are unemployed and a better understanding of the issue? Ed Miliband (5.9% JSA rate) has talked about returning to the idea of full employment, while Ed Balls (3.2% JSA rate) proposes a new jobs programme for young people. Labour’s ideas are timid and also place a too much of a focus on the individual, but they at least acknowledge the need to actually create jobs. Again then, there’s an argument that higher unemployment in Labour seats makes them more attuned the problem of unemployment.

But there’s one front-bencher’s constituency that has much higher unemployment than any others, with a whopping 9.6% of working age adults claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance. He more than any other must understand that is a chronic lack of jobs that has kept unemployment high surely? So who is this person? Step forward MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill Liam Byrne. This is the man who led Labour’s decision to abstain from the Bill retroactively made legal the Government’s sanctioning regime and consistently tries to ‘talk tough’ on welfare, giving credence to the idea that there are hundreds of thousands out there who are on the take. How can he come out with this garbage representing the constituency he does?

So what can we conclude? In general we might think that if an MP’s constituents are unemployed in greater numbers, the greater will their concern be for the unemployment issue and vice versa. If you are a welfare spokesman though, it seems you have to check your brains in at the door, and compete to see who can talk the toughest. Is that what they mean by good politics?


JSA Claimant Rates by Constituency March 2013

MP Constituency Number of Claimants Claimant Rate
Ed Miliband Doncaster North 3,594 5.9
Harriet Harman Camberwell and Peckham 5,403 6.2
Ed Balls Morley and Outwood 2,159 3.2
Douglas Alexander Paisley and Renfrewshire South 3,294 6.0
Yvette Cooper Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford 3,475 5.0
Sadiq Khan Tooting 2,329 3.2
Rosie Winterton Doncaster Central 4,354 6.8
Andy Burnham Leigh 3,030 4.7
Stephen Twigg Enfield, Southgate 2,015 3.4
Chuka Umunna Streatham 4,158 5.3
Jim Murphy East Renfrewshire 1,340 2.4
Hilary Benn Leeds Central 7,521 7.0
Angela Eagle Wallasey 2,719 4.9
Caroline Flint Don Valley 2,761 4.6
Maria Eagle Garston and Halewood 3,474 5.5
Liam Byrne Birmingham, Hodge Hill 6,810 9.6
Ivan Lewis Bury South 2,567 4.1
Mary Creagh Wakefield 3,301 5.3
Jon Trickett Hemsworth 2,849 4.7
Tom Watson West Bromwich East 3,907 7.6
Vernon Coaker Gedling 2,215 3.7
Margaret Curren Glasgow East 3,811 6.7
Owen Smith Pontypridd 1,932 3.6
MP Constituency Number of Claimants Claimant Rate
David Cameron Witney 920 1.4
Nick Clegg Sheffield, Hallam 944 1.5
William Hague Richmond (Yorks) 1,208 1.8
George Osborne Tatton 995 2.0
Danny Alexander Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey 1,738 2.8
Theresa May Maidenhead 1,194 1.8
Philip Hammond Runnymede and Weybridge 968 1.4
Vince Cable Twickenham 1,283 1.7
Iain Duncan Smith Chingford and Woodford Green 2,151 4.2
Chris Grayling Epsom and Ewell 1,010 1.5
Michael Gove Surrey Heath 1,121 1.7
Eric Pickles Brentwood and Ongar 1,194 2.0
Jeremy Hunt South West Surrey 876 1.4
Owen Paterson North Shropshire 1,954 3.1
Justine Greening Putney 1,772 2.6
Michael Moore Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk 1,962 3.4
Ed Davey Kingston and Surbiton 1,525 1.7
Patrick McLoughlin Derbyshire Dales 675 1.4
Maria Miller Basingstoke 1,825 2.6
Theresa Villiers Chipping Barnet 1,986 2.6
David Jones Clwyd West 1,722 4.1
Kenneth Clarke Rushcliffe 1,180 1.9
George Young North West Hampshire 1,124 1.8
Francis Maude North Warwickshire 1,585 2.8
Oliver Letwin West Dorset 688 1.3
Grant Shapps Welwyn Hatfield 1,758 2.4

6 thoughts on “Iain Duncan Smith defies all logic (again). And then there’s Liam Byrne…

  1. “We want to say to people, you’re claiming unemployment benefit but you’re actually in work paid for by the state”

    In some respects that’s actually a forward thinking idea. You are being paid for by the state, and there is a reciprocal obligation there to do something if asked. Why is that reciprocal obligation a bad thing?

    Now if we can just get the idiot to realise that there are 6.4 million people that actually want extra work and there isn’t that many vacancies perhaps he’ll twig what needs to be done.

    1. It sounds more Victorian in mentality to me. The idea that social assistance needs to be made so unpalatable that only the truly desperate would claim, rather than the insurance scheme it should be. Duncan Smith seems to be saying

      “You fucked up getting yourself unemployed, so if you want us to provide you with a subsistence level of income, you need to jump through all the pointless hoops we ask you to jump through, and all the while we’ll be looking for ways to sanction you.”

      There’s nothing wrong with JSA being conditional on looking for work, but the looking for work bit should be conditional on there actually being jobs to look for.

      1. That’s not really what I was getting at. More whether it is just his emphasis that is wrong (ie he’s too far to the ‘you need to whip people to get them to work’ end of the continuum).

        Beside the lack of provided jobs, which shows that the ‘find a job’ job he’s talking about is a fool’s errand, what’s the difference between what he said and this?

        “We want to say to people, when you’re on the Job Guarantee you’re actually in work paid for by the state”

        I’m just wondering if the Tories could get their head around the systemic lack of jobs issue.

        1. Yes, it’s the language he uses that I object to, but I do also think there’s a difference between a JG job (where you are actually generating output) and claiming benefits. I don’t see that as a job at all. You are trying to find work and the state is supporting you while you do that. I don’t see it as ‘working for the government.’

          I am not optimistic at all that the Tories could grasp the macro issue (maybe the Tory Party of 40 years ago but not now). They still seem to deny the existence of involuntary employment.

  2. Here is a suggestion:

    Why does IDS not mandate every millionaire in receipt of tax breaks and bonuses – i.e. “WealthFare” – to engage in unlimited forced labour (like disabled ESA recipients) every week to “earn” their money?

    After all, exactly like unemployment benefits and winter fuel payments, these bonuses are a form of *wage* paid to such ‘claimants’ by the taxpayer. It is time those getting it were ‘allowed’ the ‘opportunity’ to give something back in return.

    And this should not only apply to workless fat cats. WealthFare recipients could also be mandated to give up any paid job they happen to be doing, if it makes them unavailable for unlimited forced labour.

    Any WealthFare recipient failing to comply with sufficient dilligence, should have their bonuses sanctioned and removed indefinitely, under the subjective despotism of an envious Jobcentre Plus lackey.

    Since many millionaires would be too busy with serious partying and holidaying to comply, (and some might even be sick or physically disabled), it’s likely that most of the current WealthFare bill could be clawed back.

    These billions could be used to reinstate support for those currently being forced into destitution due to cuts.

  3. I don’t think IDS is deranged in the normal sense of being deranged. No. He’s a hard line fanatical Fascist whose policies are again failing. So like many more in his position he’s flailing around looking for any item to hang on to which might give him even the smallest success he can brag about. Remember in the 20/30s during hittlers rise to power, many of his underlings were in similar positions as IDS is now, they paid with their lives, unfortunately best we can hope would be IDS getting sacked and hopefully being questioned about his awfull policies which is causing 4,000 + suicides yearly. The ultimate dream is IDS being questioned on charges of culpable manslaughter. This classic small dog with large bone. Smith whilst an accomplished liar, cheat and fraud, is incompetent and incoherent however his ego doesn’t allow him to be wrong neither does his fanatic belief in Fascism.

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