Why history will be kind to Iain Duncan Smith

Monday, March 28, 2016

 

Iain Duncan Smith proved that he was a man of principle after last week's Budget - resigning over the government's proposed £4 billion cut to disability benefits. Whilst cutting the deficit must remain an important priority for the government, Duncan Smith is right to argue that this should not be done at the expense of the most vulnerable people in society. If we are truly 'all in this together', then the government's cuts need to be spread out - affecting everyone and not a select few. With many on the left celebrating his resignation and many on the right mourning his loss, this is an ideal opportunity to examine his true legacy and why history will be kind to Duncan Smith.

 

Firstly, IDS helped to reform pensions. After recognising that people are now living healthier and longer lives, Duncan Smith successfully made it illegal for companies to force staff to retire at the age of 65. This reform will relieve a massive burden off taxpayers who are forced to pay for the services of those who still want to work but are compelled to abandon their careers.

 

Another reform that Duncan Smith implemented during his time as Work and Pensions Secretary was the Work Programme. This programme replaced Labour's welfare-to-work scheme. Instead of allowing people to get away with a comfortable life on benefits, the Work Programme ensures that private companies are provided with incentives to help the long-term unemployed find work. Long-term recipients of Jobseekers' Allowance are provided with the opportunity to work for private companies in order to ease them into work. Even though the programme was challenged in 2014 by the High Court, which argued that it interfered with the right to a free trial under Article Six of the Convention on Human Rights, Duncan Smith rescued the scheme through emergency legislation.

 

However, the greatest reform to the welfare state that can be credited to Duncan Smith is Universal Credit, a new single payment scheme that brings together all pre-existing benefits like Jobseekers' Allowance and Housing Benefit. Duncan Smith has attempted to eradicate the complexities of the welfare system, which allows claimants access to a variety of different benefits, enabling them to extract more money than necessary from the state. Universal Credit ensures that work pays more than benefits. Indeed, through the new system, people are imposed with sanctions if they try to avoid working at all. This year, Universal Credit will finally be rolled out across the country.

 

Of course, Duncan Smith has made a few mistakes along the way. In September 2013, Mark Serwotka, the General Secretary of the PCS union, criticised Duncan Smith for celebrating his welfare benefits sanctions. The National Audit Office criticised Duncan Smith for the inefficiency of his department the same month. But, with a record of three million people back in work since the introduction of his reforms, there is no doubt history will be kind to IDS. His reforms to pensions, Universal Credit and the Work Programme are radical and far-reaching – attempting to establish the foundations of a more just, logical welfare system. I believe he will be remembered as the man who rescued the welfare state.

 

Margaret Thatcher once boasted that her greatest long-term legacy was New Labour; the dominant faction in the Labour Party that retained many of her reforms from 1997 onwards. The true test of Duncan Smith's legacy, as for any Conservative politician, is whether Labour retain his welfare reforms when they (eventually) return to power.

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