I didn't see all of the interview with Iain Duncan Smith on the Andrew Marr programme yesterday. Just enough to realise that it would be no different to all the rest. But after I'd had to switch off he was apparently asked about the Maria Miller case, and said that there was the danger of a witch hunt against her. That's what has made all the headlines, of course. No one cares what he said about "welfare".
But if it was a bland interview (with the usual lies) it was because he was too embarrassed to make the announcement he had been planning. We had it anyway. As the Telegraph headlined it on Saturday, Benefit cheats face higher fines and losing their homes. Not good timing. What it amounts to is that there will be a crackdown on fraudsters, who could be forced to sell their homes. How many benefits cheats actually own their own homes, he didn't say. And pensioners who claim top-up benefits they're not entitled to will also be rooted out. Fine. But even IDS could see that the announcement didn't sit well with the latest scandal about an MP and her second home.
The other announcement about turning the screw on the unemployed was given to Esther McVey. It was left to the Guardian to give a full account of this; but whose idea it was to headline it including the stupid phrase "to end 'signing-on culture'" I don't know. Apparently McVey hadn't at that point actually made the announcement, but the paper had an advance copy. She chirrups:
"With the economy growing, unemployment falling and record numbers of people in work, now is the time to start expecting more of people if they want to claim benefits. It's only right that we should ask people to take the first basic steps to getting a job before they start claiming jobseeker's allowance – it will show they are taking their search for work seriously. This is about treating people like adults and setting out clearly what is expected of them so they can hit the ground running. In return, we will give people as much help and support as possible to move off benefits and into work because we know from employers that it's the people who are prepared and enthusiastic who are most likely to get the job. This change will mean people start their claim ready to look for work and will show they are serious about finding a job as quickly as possible."
That is so absurd and deeply patronising that you wonder if she knows anything at all about the system as it is, or about the history of social security. What these new measures amount to is that in the week between losing your job and being allowed to sign on you must i) register with Universal Job Match and ii) produce a CV.
Yes, that's the UJM which has been shown to be hopelessly riddled with fraudulent and duplicate vacancies, and which most reputable employers now avoid. But you must register with it. And as you do, you can contemplate the fact that your internet connection will have to go because you can't now afford it. A CV as well? Perhaps you've never had to have one and you need a bit of guidance. Tough. If you go to sign on without one - or perhaps without one which passes muster with the JC "adviser" - you'll be turned away. All those people who don't have access to a computer, and wouldn't know how to use one if they did, will be left floundering. And all those who haven't heard about the new rules, and naively thought that they were entitled to state benefits if they were out of work, will be turned away because they are not "taking their search for work seriously".
Many experienced claimants have by now sussed what is going on here. It's just a new way of delaying benefit payments, perhaps for ever.