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Sun 19 January 2020
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The knighthood for Iain Duncan Smith shows the disdain of the ruling class for the most vulnerable people in society, argues Natalie Bloomer.


It’s not unusual for eyes to be rolled at the announcement of the new year honours list, but news that former Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith is to be knighted is more than just an annoyance, it’s an insult.

Thousands of the most vulnerable people in society have been hurt as a direct result of his policies. Universal Credit is perhaps the most recognised of his failings but his time at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) saw a long list of reforms that made life harder for those who were already struggling.

Here’s some of them:


The Bedroom Tax

The introduction of the Bedroom Tax in 2013 meant that people receiving housing benefit saw their money cut if they had a ‘spare’ room. The thinking behind the policy was that people would move into smaller homes to avoid a drop in money, meaning that bigger properties would be freed up. But the DWP didn’t take into account how few smaller social homes were actually available. The result was that people were unable to move and were instead forced to cut back on essential items to try to make ends meet.

A government study from 2015 found just 17% of people affected by the bedroom tax were actually able to change their circumstances to avoid a cut in their benefits. Of those asked 76% were forced to cut back on food and 46% spent less heating their homes as a consequence. 

Personal Independence Payments (PIP)

Another of Iain Duncan Smith’s key reforms was the replacement of the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with PIP. The roll-out of the new benefit was a disaster from the start with some people waiting up to 6 months for their money.

In 2014, the Public Accounts Committee said the implementation of PIP had been “nothing short of a fiasco.” The committee heard evidence of a person requiring hospital intervention as a result of the stress caused by the delays, and another being unable to afford the specific diet required for diabetes and gastric problems while waiting for a decision. Various disability charities including Parkinsons UK and the MS Society have spoken out about the problems faced by people claiming the benefit.

Sanctions

Iain Duncan Smith faced extensive criticism over the use of sanctions while he was at the DWP. Research by the University of Oxford found a strong link between people having their benefits stopped and an increase in foodbank use. The Trussell Trust, which runs a network of food banks across the UK, provided evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee of a man who was sanctioned because he missed an appointment because his partner had just had a stillborn baby, and a man who had his money stopped for 9 weeks because he missed an appointment after being taken to hospital with a suspected heart attack. 

Work Capability Assessments

If you are sick or disabled and require financial support from the state it is likely that you have come to dread the words Work Capability Assessment. Private companies are instructed by the government to carry out tests to help the DWP decide if a claimant should continue to receive benefits or if they are ‘fit for work’.

The process has been described as “humiliating and degrading” and many people have had their money incorrectly stopped. In 2013, Linda Wootton died in hospital just nine days after being told by Ian Duncan Smith’s then department that she was fit for work.

The former Work and Pensions Secretary was warned repeatedly about the harm his policies would cause but he continued regardless. The result has been an increase in homelessness, soaring food bank use, and children going to school hungry.

This is not a man that should be rewarded in any way, let alone knighted. That he has been shows the disdain the ruling class has for the most vulnerable people in our country and that for the likes of Iain Duncan Smith repeated failure is no obstacle to staying at the top.

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