Posts Tagged ‘iain duncan smith’

Food bank, operated by charities, for people affected by cuts in welfare benefitsLord Freud, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Work and Pensions speaking in the House of Lords on 2 July 2013 rejected a suggestion that the government’s austerity policies had led to an increase in food banks, and said that the increase was ‘supply led’.

‘If you put more food banks in, that is the supply. Clearly, food from the food banks is a free good and by definition with a free good there’s almost infinite demand.’

Tim Thornton, the Bishop of Truro, responded in the Lords saying that ‘the anecdotal experience that I have and the stories that I hear make it clear that there are some real benefit issues, which is why many people are driven to go – they do not choose to go; they have to go – to food banks.’ And Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, questioned the minister’s claim on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, saying that 35% of referrals to church-run food banks came from social services departments, who had assessed users as in need of emergency food aid. The Trussell Trust said that more than 350,000 people turned to food banks for help last year, almost triple the number who received food aid in the previous year.

Lord Freud, who owns an eight-bed mansion in Kent and a four-bed house in London, was responsible for introducing the ‘bedroom tax’ in April 2013, whereby tenants receiving housing benefit, who are deemed to have a ‘spare bedroom’, have their benefit reduced. Since the tax was introduced, large numbers of council tenants have gone into arrears with their rent. Some councils are trying to help residents by re-classifying spare bedrooms as having another use. But Lord Freud is not having it. He has warned councils who re-classify such bedrooms that they risk having their housing benefit budget cut.

Petition asking Iain Duncan Smith, Department of Work & Pensions, to live on £53 a week

Signatories of the petition outside the Department of Work & Pensions. The petition was hosted by Change.org.

Earlier in April 2013, Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work & Pensions, was defending on the Radio 4 Today programme, the array of welfare reforms being introduced as part of the government’s deficit reduction plans. Mr Duncan Smith was asked by market stall-holder David Bennett whether he could survive on £53 a week. This was the amount Mr Bennett was left with to live on after the new round of reductions to his housing benefit and council tax assistance, and which is roughly equivalent to the lowest rate of job seeker’s allowance given to adults under 25. Mr Duncan Smith replied ‘If I had to I would’. This prompted an online petition signed by 460,000 people asking him to prove that he could live on £53 a week by doing it for a year. The Secretary of State dismissed the petition as ‘a complete stunt which distracts attention from the welfare reforms which are much more important. … I have been unemployed twice in my life so I have already done this. I know what it is like to live on the breadline.’

Duncan Smith is a millionaire, he earns £134,565 a year as a cabinet minister, and he lives rent-free in a £2 million mansion on an extensive estate in Buckinghamshire owned by his father-in-law, which has at least four spare bedrooms, a swimming pool and tennis courts.

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Grant Shapps, Conservative Party Chairman & Minister without Portfolio

Grant Shapps, Conservative Party Chairman & Minister without Portfolio

Newspapers are full of numbers, particularly upmarket ones, and numbers in an article are just like words in that they are there to convey information. However unlike words we tend not to ask ourselves what numbers mean, or to question if they are correct. In March this year, the Daily Telegraph faithfully reported figures from a Conservative party press release, that claimed ‘nearly a million people’ have come off incapacity benefit rather than face new medical tests for what is now called the Employment & Support allowance (ESA). The figure in the press release was actually 873,000, still a very large number nevertheless.

The article quoted the party chairman, Grant Shapps, as saying that the figure was a vindication of the government’s stricter policies on benefit claimants, and a demonstration of how the ‘welfare system was broken under Labour’. Readers were led to suppose that this showed the scale of malingering before the coalition put a stop to it. And before long, other like-minded newspapers took up the call, in their efforts to convince voters that the government was on the side of ‘hard-working families’ and was cracking down on vast numbers of ‘job shirkers’ and ‘benefit scroungers’.

Andrew Dilnot, Chair of UK Statistics Authority

Andrew Dilnot, Chair of UK Statistics Authority

But the big number was a lie, there is no other word for it. And the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Andrew Dilnot, had to reprimand ministers, though in polite Whitehall language, about their misuse of statistics. The 873,000 alleged malingerers had never received incapacity benefit. They were new claimants, aggregated over three and a half years. Many withdrew their claim because they recovered from their condition or found a job. In 2011-12, out of 603,600 established benefit claimants referred for new medical tests, just 19,700, that is 3.3%, withdrew their claim before taking them. That figure, which most people would think small, represented the true scale of people pretending to be sick.

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