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Thursday, September 05, 2013 

The model of a charmless man.

Back in the deep mists of time (or eleven years ago, as it was, a period we seem to be returning to a lot lately) Iain Duncan Smith asked his party not to underestimate the determination of a quiet man.  The Tories responded by getting rid of him as leader a year later, turning instead to the talents of a man described by Ann Widdecombe, of all people, as having something of the night about him.  Suitably chastened by his experience, Duncan Smith went off and launched the Centre for Social Justice, having been deeply troubled by a visit as leader to the Easterhouse estate.

Flash forward a decade and rather than the quiet man we have the man who is never wrong.  Whether it's using statistics in the most misleading fashion imaginable, justifying himself on the basis that he "believes" he's right, or as seen today when putting all the blame for the problems with the roll-out of Universal Credit on faceless civil servants, his hubris seems to know no bounds.  Unsurprisingly, one of the main findings of the National Audit Office's study into the scheme found that there was a "fortress" culture, where only good news circulated, and those involved felt they couldn't raise concerns.  The main fault however was that the plan was far too ambitious in the first place: Duncan Smith and his department wanted all new claimants to be put on UC starting this October, and continued to claim they would be until the full scale of the chaos within the DWP became clear a few months ago.  As Liam Byrne argued in the Commons, the level of chicanery involved is quite something even for a government department struggling with IT systems: IDS claimed back in March that UC was proceeding as planned despite the programme having undergone a "reset" just a month before.

Nor is IDS even prepared to accept that the timetable for full implementation, scheduled for 2017, still might not be met, despite the NAO heavily hinting this will be the case.  Rather, just as sophistry has been repeatedly employed to claim the Olympics came in under budget despite the fact they cost far more than the original estimate as presented at the time, so now IDS claims UC will be "delivered" as planned and on budget.  Appropriately, the same man who helmed the "under budget" handover of the Olympic Park is now the one in charge of the scheme.

Most agree that in principle, UC has the potential to simplify the benefits system.  Far less clear is whether it will make work pay as the coalition claims.  If anything, it looks likely to make life even more miserable for those whom can only work part-time, or who can't get more hours, as a new conditionality regime is to be implemented alongside it.  With ever more people being pushed onto zero hours contracts, the aim appears not to be to help but to dismantle Gordon Brown's hated tax credits step by step.

Similarly to how Michael Gove is protected from most criticism due to his former life as journalist, IDS enjoys such overwhelming support from the right-wing press for his policies, for which see the Mail's preference for prejudice over facts that he can continue claiming black is in fact white.  Indeed, when the media class as a whole seems to have decided that something must be done about "benefits culture", as confirmed by Channel 4's fatuously premised Benefits Britain 1949, the cover is there for failure on a grand scale, regardless of the damage being done to some of the most vulnerable.

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