While the more fortunate of us were tucking into our turkey on Christmas Day, even if it was courtesy of a charity in a homeless shelter, Iain Duncan Smith was composing a piece for the Daily Mail. There will, it says, be "No hiding place for those who opt for a life on benefits". He didn't have to think too hard about it. All the familiar cliches and lies are there, like "lifestyle choice". On the benefit cap, for instance, "around 19,000 who would potentially have been subject to the benefit cap have already moved into work". That's two fingers up to the government's own statisticians who told him that the statement was dishonest. But the main point of the piece is to trumpet the new scheme "that will require 6,000 jobseekers to spend 35 hours a week at a supervised jobsearch centre. People who have been out of work for several years or those who are lacking motivation [my italics] will be required to spend up to six months looking for and applying for jobs in return for their benefits."
More dishonest twaddle. This is about sanctioning as many people as possible as quickly as possible. Even if they turn up on time and do as they're told, they'll be sanctioned for "lacking motivation". Some will go into the cash-in-hand economy (which hurts the rest of us) and some will simply be homeless. But it will give the repellent IDS the chance to say that he's got them to sign off. There's no detail about who will run these centres, but they will certainly provide jobs for loads of security staff.
The Mail likes this stuff so much that it has an editorial comment on it. The clever chappy who wrote it thinks that IDS's initiative "will doubtless provoke howls of indignation from the liberal establishment". (Who are they, you may well ask.) "It is a robust approach and there are those on the Left who will say it's cruel. They said the same about the benefit cap, the 'bedroom tax', the unpaid work programme and universal benefit [sic]." I could go on quoting, but it's too nauseating.
The lie about the numbers being driven to get a job by the benefit cap was published by the Telegraph on Christmas Eve, with elaborations and the statement from IDS that it had "pushed 250 people back into work every week". (For those who are not clear why this is a lie, it was pointed out by the statisticians that there is constant "churn", some people coming off benefits and some coming on, and there is no way of knowing how many of those signed off as a direct result of the cap.)
More embarrassing for IDS (no, okay, he is never embarrassed) was the Christmas Eve news that 32,000 people had not received their benefits because of an "error" by the DWP. Not to worry; if they rang up before 5.00 pm they would get the money within 3 hours. Presumably, if they were lucky enough to hear about this, the unfortunate could phone a premium rate number -something which the government has now decreed should stop. The DWP will have to give out private local rate numbers - a victory for Margaret Hodge and her Public Accounts Committee.
Boxing Day brought an interesting exclusive in the Independent. Labour has decided that outsourcing public services is not necessarily a good thing. They've recognised that the contracts don't provide better competition or drive down prices because "what we have in this country now is an oligopoly of a few companies that are not competing effectively and are providing poor value for money for the taxpayer." Hallelujah! Yes, Labour started it, but if they've now seen the light we can only rejoice. Perhaps they'll also do something about the scam reported in the Guardian on Boxing Day. The GMB union is taking a case to court against a marketing company, PerDM, which apparently employs people on a fake self-employment basis and then pays them way below minimum wage.
It's not going to get any better, folks. The best we can hope for in 2014 is that there are more real jobs, and some of those desperate for work and a viable income will escape from the clutches of this appalling government.