Blair Failed. So Did Thatcher. If Anyone Can Mend a Welfare System Ruining Britain, It's This Brave Man

Daily Mail (London), May 29, 2010 | Go to article overview

Blair Failed. So Did Thatcher. If Anyone Can Mend a Welfare System Ruining Britain, It's This Brave Man


Byline: PETER OBORNE

THERE ARE very few people in public life with finer personal qualities than Iain Duncan Smith, the newly appointed Work and Pensions Secretary. As Tory leader six years ago, he was reviled, humiliated, plotted against and finally betrayed by his own colleagues. Everybody would have understood and sympathised if he had quit politics.

But Iain Duncan Smith did not sulk. There were no bitter private briefings. He did not take the usual failed politician's route and enrich himself as a lobbyist, company director or after-dinner speaker. Nor did he write a self-indulgent, money-spinning memoir that seems almost obligatory these days for any politician who leaves office.

Duncan Smith, a former British soldier and the son of a wartime fighter pilot, just bashed on. He devoted himself to the study of what is perhaps the most perplexing and yet crucial issue that faces our country today.

The former Tory leader wanted to find the answer to two questions. Why, when Britain is more prosperous than at any time in our history, is there also so much poverty and deprivation? And, despite a prolonged period of peace and security, why are crime, homelessness, family breakdown and drug addiction reaching record levels? Iain Duncan Smith set about his mission the hard way. He did not just listen to the bureaucrats, academics and other self-appointed experts on the Welfare State. In fact, he refused to accept the conventional wisdom that the system is so entrenched that it cannot be changed. Instead, he went to see for himself the derelict inner-city housing estates. He talked at length to welfare officers, charity workers, single mothers, drug addicts, prostitutes and the unemployed.

This was hard, poorly paid and unglamorous work. But gradually Iain Duncan Smith made a shattering discovery.

It dawned on him that the truth was that our welfare state has been making the problem of unemployment and poverty worse, not better. In financial terms, our benefits system, which costs [pounds sterling]85 billion a year, may be generous.

But it traps people in squalor and deprivation.

This is because the system is perversely structured so that there are no proper incentives for the unemployed to find a job. It means that someone who moves off the dole to a [pounds sterling]15,000-a-year job may actually find themselves poorer because they lose some welfare entitlements.

AS Duncan Smith said last week: 'A system originally designed to support the poorest in society is now trapping them in the very condition it was supposed to alleviate.'

It is this absurd system that successive governments have allowed to take root and which explains why immigrants (most of whom come from countries where welfare systems scarcely exist) have grabbed so many new British jobs over the past ten years.

It also explains the dreadful fact that our failed welfare state has produced something entirely new in British society: a pattern of longterm joblessness that now stretches through generations.

As a result, there are housing estates where neither young adults, their parents nor their grandparents have ever had a job. This, in turn, has produced a long-term culture of dependency on handouts from the State, often buttressed by people resorting to crime to obtain more money.

For the past five years, Iain Duncan Smith has been a voice crying in the wilderness as he examined the causes of these social ills. He set up the think-tank The Centre For Social Justice, which has produced numerous reports highlighting the scale of the problems and proposing ever more radical and daring solutions.

But Gordon Brown, both as Chancellor and then Prime Minister, would not listen.

Then two weeks ago, in an act of great courage, David Cameron made themomentous -- some would say foolhardy -- decision to bring Iain Duncan Smith into the heart of government as Work and Pensions Secretary, with the challenge to mend Britain's broken welfare system. …

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