Wearily we have to notice the speech IDS was due to make today, which was trailed so exhaustively that there's no need to read it. Yesterday's Telegraph naturally had the most sympathetic coverage. Apparently the government is "matching economic recovery with social recovery", but "the economy will never fully recover unless families on benefits return to work". That's the big problem for Smith. His big plans have failed to get well over 2 million people back into work (or into work for the first time) and he takes it personally. How dare they remain unemployed? He has stated that "the way our benefits system is constructed" is responsible for the number of immigrants, coming to take the jobs British people refuse to take. The Guardian gives more detail on the figures IDS will cite and they quote him:
"When we took office, there were nearly five million people on out-of-work benefits. It was clear to me that in large part this situation was the product of a dysfunctional welfare system that often trapped those it was supposed to help in cycles of worklessness and dependency. My one aim as work and pensions secretary has been to change this culture – and everything we have done, every programme we have introduced, has been about supporting everyone who is able to into work. The scale of the change has been enormous – but we are delivering, and it is changing our country for the better."
If that makes you want to scream and throw things, I'm sorry. That's the make-believe world that IDS lives in. All those lives he's ruined; the trail of misery and destitution he's left; the lies about sanctions - they are nothing to him. He was asked by a BBC reporter recently if he worried about cases of people suffering. He said they made him "sad" and he wanted to understand them. It was actually revealing. These cases, these people, are not real to him. They are shadows he can dismiss.
Policy Exchange, the Tory "think tank", has come up with some ways of slashing the income of the poorest even further. One idea is to reduce the benefit cap, currently £26,000 pa, still further outside the south-east corner of the country. IDS said, "We're not working on that," which doesn't rule it out for the future. It's an acknowledgement that the biggest driver of high household benefits is rent; but it ignores the fact that there are people needing benefits in some high-cost areas outside London. PE also wants to limit child benefits to 4 children. That might get a sympathetic hearing; but it would significantly increase child poverty.
This is the message which the Tories will take into the election. The out-of-work are wilfully unemployed and they are the cause of all society's ills. But by making them suffer ever greater deprivation the Tories will persuade them to get a job.
I read an interesting piece recently (I've lost the link) which said that the only conclusion to be drawn from the puzzling employment statistics was that lots of people were working without paying tax. They must be in very casual work or notional self-employment, or the deliberate black economy. Yes.