No radical reform, only retrenchment and continuity with the policies of the last governmentby Declan Gaffney / April 7, 2015 / Leave a comment
Perhaps the kindest thing to be said about James Bartholomew’s recent article for Prospect on Iain Duncan Smith is that its partisanship is undisguised. As an account of the coalition’s record on social security, it cannot be taken seriously.
Part of the problem—there’s really no nice way of putting this—is that there are simply too many silly mistakes. We are told that “the rate of unemployment has… fallen by 813,000” since late 2011. That’s a fall in the count, not the rate. We are told that among the reasons for this fall are that more single parents and disabled people are subject to benefit conditionality: but prior to these policy changes, most of those affected didn’t appear in the unemployment figures (because they were economically inactive), so they won’t have contributed to the fall. We are told that prior to the coalition, unemployed claimants “used to go to a Job Centre, fill in forms and be given their benefits. Now they are required to make a commitment to seek work,” as if conditionality had not been a feature of the UK system for decades (what does he think the introduction of Jobseeker’s Allowance was about?). The aim of the Benefit Cap “has been to make benefits no more than the mean income of a working household.” Wrong: it is to make benefits no more than median earnings, a very different thing.
And so on. This casual attitude to the facts does not inspire confidence, especially when the author is making very big claims indeed. “What Duncan Smith has achieved is the biggest change in welfare to have taken place since the Attlee government.” The basis for this statement, as far as I can see, is the claim that the reduction in unemployment since 2011 has no historical precedent. I’m not sure where to start here, because I’m really not sure what Bartholomew means—or rather, I think I know what he means but I find it hard to believe he can be serious. The argument is that the sort of fall in unemployment we have seen since 2011 usually only occurs during booms. As there hasn’t been a boom since 2010 (I think we can all agree on this) the fall in unemployment must reflect the independent effect of Duncan Smith’s policy changes, which thus represent an unprecedented achievement. Here’s the relevant passage: