Iain Duncan Smith still misleads as Labour opposes benefit cap

Thu, 24/09/2015 - 13:13 -- nick

Some doubt has surrounded the Labour position on the benefit cap in the first days of its new leadership.

New work and pensions spokesperson Owen Smith had previously suggested only that the party opposed the recent Tory extension of the cap from £26,000 to £20,000 (£23,000 in London), a halfway-house that satisfied neither pro-welfare state people or antis.

He was slapped down by Jeremy Corbyn, who told the TUC conference last week that he would "remove the whole idea of the benefit cap", blaming it for "social cleansing" in his Islington North constituency and recognising that, far from enriching claimants and allowing them to buy that big screen TV the tabloids are so fond of talking about, it only pays the exact cost of their housing.

Owen Smith fell into line quickly, saying yesterday that Corbyn had "clearly signalled that he wants Labour to review and refresh our thinking on social security, especially in respect of the benefit cap, and that's a challenge I know the entire party will rise to in the months ahead".

Hardly a ringing endorsement, but the Labour party is only starting to emerge from a long period of trying to appease voters who have been directed to look down rather than up for the answers to their problems.

A hugely welcome change then, giving claimants hope that finally someone powerful will put their side of the argument and the race to abolish benefits altogether which Labour and Tories ran together is now at an end.

Unsurprisingly it was not given a great reception by hated work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who received the news with a snort, saying:

"Conservatives believe that nobody should be able to claim more in welfare than the average family earns by going out to work."

This fits with the narrative developed since the early years of the coalition, the linking of benefit income to earnings an obvious falsehood when those on average pay who have families are likely to get tax credits and other state help themselves and these aren't included in the calculation.

But Duncan Smith has apparently forgotten even the most basic point of the story. Since the first cap was introduced average wages have stayed fairly static at £26,000, so how can the benchmarking argument still be used to justify a £20,000 limit?

It can't be, and yet it is being. Duncan Smith seems to have given up even the pretence of competence on being reappointed to the same job after five years of failure; after being pulled up for misleading parliament and the public, the failure of his pet Universal Credit system costing millions, work programme under-performance, deaths of claimants due to benefit sanctions and cuts, poor media appearances, a belief by his Chancellor that he did not have the intelligence for his job and a general lack of moral compass from a man pretending to be guided by faith. He looks like he feels untouchable.

Recent speculation that he was the Oxford undergraduate who took a certain picture of the Prime Minister with a pig can easily be discounted; he clearly doesn't have the smarts to get a degree, although he may again pretend that he did after some early 'success' claiming he graduated from Perugia University.

Seasoned Duncan Smith-watchers are still left floundering as to why he is in his sixth year in the same cabinet job, and yet there he is. Labour must feel they can make serious headway against him on the new benefit cap when the arguments are so half-hearted, and Duncan Smith is doing his best to encourage them in this belief.