Iain Duncan Smith was quoted in the Daily Mail on Sunday as saying that:
‘People who are paying taxes, working very hard, have hardly seen any increases in their salary and yet, under the last government, the welfare bill rose by some 60 per cent to £200billion’
This is exactly the type of double speak that the tabloid press loves, but it is riddled with contradictions. The most apparent of which is of course that it was precisely because wages were stagnant and prices increasing that the welfare bill had to rise in order to meet the difference. Is IDS saying that if he had of been in power during the Labour ‘boom-years’, he would have put downward pressure on benefits? If so, doesn’t that mean that he would have presided over the impoverishment of the UK’s workforce, with low income households being squeezed between an inadequate benefit ‘top up’ and falling real wages?
IDS is right to point to Labour’s using the benefit bill to prop up depressed wages as a disaster, but by failing to offer a viable alternative i.e. ensuring that work actually pays, he exposes the contradiction inherent in his own government’s position; that as long as wages fail to keep up with inflation, the government is faced with either higher benefit payments (note the increase in the Housing Benefit bill despite massive cuts) or an increasingly impoverished population. Labour may not have had an answer when they were in power, but it certainly doesn’t look like the Conservatives have one now either.
Melanie Phillips demonstrated similar levels of ignorance in her Archbishop bashing article where she failed to grasp the irony of simultaneously claiming that social security is the refuge of the ‘selfish’ and ‘anti-social’, and noting that over half the population is receiving a social security benefit! I assume she wasn’t claiming that half the population are selfish and anti-social, but I don’t think anyone would be surprised if she had.
Furthermore, neither Melanie nor its creator IDS appear to fully understand that Universal Credit, the new payment that will replace most of the current benefit system by 2017, will be the same for in-work as well as out-of-work claimants. Universal Credit, and welfare reform more general, is an acceptance of exactly the thing that the Tories decry; the institutional and political acceptance of the fact that benefits become increasingly more important as wages drop or remain stagnant.
By failing to ensure that work pays, the Tories and their proponents are instead tying us to a system that will see the benefit bill increasing as prices continue to outstrip wages, and increasing numbers of previously self-sufficient families are forced to make a claim, often for the first time. It is low wages that create benefit dependency not ‘selfish’ or ‘anti-social’ citizens.