Here are two facts about Secretary of State for Work and Pensions,
Irritable Duncan Syndrome Iain Duncan Smith.
1. He recently claimed that he’d be capable of living on £53 a week, as some benefits claimants do.
2. He currently earns over forty times that amount, but when he recently spent £39 on breakfast he charged it to the taxpayer.
Taken completely in isolation, these two facts should tell you quite a bit about Iain Duncan Smith. In the most kind and charitable interpretation you could settle on, he’s somewhat out of touch with how other people live, and hasn’t as nuanced and detailed an understanding as he seems to think he does, when it comes to the way many people think about money.
There are less kind and less charitable interpretations as well, of course – and strong arguments that these are the ones he more greatly deserves. But just how much of a vicious bastard Iain Duncan Smith is isn’t directly relevant to how much he’s missing the point.
I don’t doubt that he could sit and work out a scenario whereby he forewent a few luxuries for a while, bought some generic non-brand foodstuffs, and provided himself with a sufficient supply of life’s staples that he didn’t literally die, while on a standard Jobseeker’s Allowance budget. He could probably make that work for a week – if, as he says, he had to – and he seems to see himself as the sort of person with the kind of moral fortitude required to just knuckle down and grit your teeth through such an ordeal, to see it through till the end.
But of course, in his case that end would be a week away. For most people, it’s nowhere in sight.
He only has to think in terms of spending thriftily and shopping smartly for a few days in order to make a point (and is sitting comfortably in his £2million mansion which hasn’t cost him a penny all the while). But frighteningly many thousands of people (whom his own Workfare schemes are doing not a damn thing to help, incidentally) are having to go through life like this.
They don’t get to just budget a simple week free of extravagances to show the world what they can do. They have to keep it up, every week, and deal with every unexpected expense which comes their way too.
Need to take a bus journey somewhere? Have to travel back to the Jobcentre at short notice because they cocked something up and you’re in danger of getting sanctioned? Need a haircut ahead of a job interview? Emergency dental work? Christmas presents? When each of these comes up, you’ve no idea if you can afford them. If several arise too close together, there goes your heating bill for next month. Hope you own plenty of blankets.
If Iain Duncan Smith thinks he could maintain anything remotely comparable to his current lifestyle – if he thinks he could cope with that constant uncertainty and insecurity always knotting his stomach, the regular demands for unplanned expenses any one of which might be enough to tip him over the edge and into unrecoverable debt or simply be impossible for him to pay – if he thinks he could live anything he’d recognise as a life, and not need more than £53 a week…
…then charitable interpretations be damned; the guy’s a fucking idiot.
Speaking of which, here’s something else he said which it’s hard to find a charitable interpretation for:
…the amount of money that taxpayers pay sees some value at the end of it in terms of people being supported.
It’s all about the poors making themselves useful, you see. Never mind caring for others in society for its own sake; raising the standard of living for the less fortunate; providing some dignity and security; helping lift the constant fog of judgment that sits over anyone not able to find a job or prevented from “giving back” as much as the rest of us deem they should because of physical or mental health issues. To hell with all that lefty bollocks. If we’re going to give you dozens of pounds every single week so that you can just scrape by in a dismally meagre existence devoid of luxuries, we’d damn well better get something out of it ourselves.
Of course, the taxpayer also pays Iain Duncan Smith £134,565 a year, or over £2,500 gross every week. The precise “value” we’ve seen as a result of supporting him in this way is left as an exercise to the reader.
A petition has sprung up, and become massively popular at great speed, demanding that IDS prove himself by doing exactly what he’s claimed he could do, for a whole year. This might be a useful exercise in highlighting the issue of poverty and his inability to appreciate it, and I hope it generates some press – but it’s worth remembering that we don’t really want him to have to live on £53 a week, because we don’t want anyone to live like that. As 21st century citizens of the developed world in the internet age, when we’re more than capable of amply looking after everyone’s needs if we got ourselves better organised, we all deserve better. Even Iain Duncan Smith.
Of more direct value is the petition against the War on Welfare. Whatever you think of the capacity for these online petitions to do any good, adding support and another voice to this side of the conversation should be a no-brainer, especially when the opposition seems to consist of all the people in charge. Some of the stories coming out of that campaign, about how the disabled and least able to defend themselves are treated, should make you feel sick and angry.
And while we’re at it, Universal Basic Income, bitches. I’m still not intellectually convinced it’s as likely a solution as I powerfully hope it could be, but the more such ideas are discussed and such attitudes are fomented, the better.