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:
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
||Number of Claimants
||Camberwell and Peckham
||Morley and Outwood
||Paisley and Renfrewshire South
||Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford
||Garston and Halewood
||Birmingham, Hodge Hill
||West Bromwich East
||Number of Claimants
||Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey
||Runnymede and Weybridge
|Iain Duncan Smith
||Chingford and Woodford Green
||Epsom and Ewell
||Brentwood and Ongar
||South West Surrey
||Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk
||Kingston and Surbiton
||North West Hampshire