I've congratulated the Guardian on its coverage of the wreckage of welfare "reform"; and now we have to add the BBC to the roll of honour. The TV news may not carry much, but its website has several items of interest. The first was a story yesterday by the excellent Mark Easton, headlined "Foodbanks used by thousands of jobless, figures show". The jobcentres have referred about 6,000 people to the foodbanks in the last year. You would think that would be a matter of some shame for Iain Duncan Smith, but no. "Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said directing people to food banks was a short-term method of alleviating their financial problems. 'I've said to Job Centres, sort their problem out. If it is a case of food banks, Job Centres are meant to help passport people through to that so they can get them stable, so they can deal with their problems.'" He also said that he's proud of the fact that his government changed the law to allow the jobcentres to refer people to the foodbanks. "What would you prefer?" he asked.
Also yesterday, the Guardian reported that an attempt to get the issue of targets for sanctions included in the forthcoming enquiry into the sanctions regime was defeated in the House of Lords. The article is well worth reading for the peculiar argument of Lord Freud.
An even more worrying report in the Guardian says that "food stamps" will arrive in Britain next month. Vouchers in the form of payment cards will replace emergency loans. For those who don't know the history, there was once something called an emergency grant, for those on benefits who needed one-off items like a bed or a cooker. They were replaced by loans, thus shattering the notion that there was a minimum income which people needed to live on. Now even that is gone, replaced by these "vouchers" which will block their exchange for alcohol, cigarettes or gambling. Perhaps this is why Alec Shelbrooke was persuaded to withdraw his private member's bill to pay all benefits via such cards. "Don't worry, Alec," the minister might have said. "We're bringing it in gradually."
The BBC reports a pronouncement by Frank Field MP. He used to be a welfare minister in the Labour government, and came up with some pretty drastic ideas for welfare reform which were never implemented. Now, he's advising social housing landlords to brick up doors and knock down walls to get rid of spare rooms, and so get round the "bedroom tax". It's an interesting idea.
Today the BBC has published an excellent article on its website detailing all the new benefit changes. Essential reading. It also reports that a judicial review of the housing benefit changes is to go ahead after the government lost an attempt to stop it.
Finally, Iain Duncan Smith attended an event in Edinburgh hosted by Capita to deliver a speech on pensions reform. He was heckled by a determined protester, Willie Black, who called him a "parasite" and a "ratbag". You can read about it in the Guardian or watch it on the BBC's website. Enjoy.
I wonder if the BBC's coverage has sparked more formal complaints from Mr Duncan Smith.