It’s difficult to know what has motivated Iain Duncan Smith to resign. He claimed he was dissatisfied with the cuts to PIP, but suggested at the same time they might have been justified if they had gone towards deficit reduction. That makes little sense. If the government was serious about deficit reduction, it would have increased taxes. So in both cases, benefit cuts have been made necessary in order to protect the incomes of people who are better off. Apparently he was also frustrated because he was unable to cut payments to pensioners. So one possible explanation is that IDS felt he should have full control, rather than being subject to the constraints of the Treasury.
A second possibility is that IDS thought it prudent to go before things unravel. Universal Credit is not working, but the model that IDS said he believed in – a benefit that would be paid regardless of work status – has been fatally undermined by sanctions and the cuts to the Work Allowance coming in in April. A court decision last week should require the DWP to publish information on the early development of UC, and that is likely to reveal a combination of managerial incompetence and misleading statements to the Commons.
Either way, Stephen Crabb, the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, is inheriting a pig’s breakfast. There could be scope to review and simplify some of the policies that have incapacitated the benefits system in recent years:
- decouple Housing Benefit from the Universal Credit reforms
- individualise claims, rather than expecting couples to make joint statements online
- exempt select categories of need from redundant assessments
- relate means-tested benefits to previous periods, rather than to uncertain current income
- limit any sanctions to a proportion of benefit, so that contact is not lost
- address the inconsistent treatment of provision for mobility between people of different ages.
However, if – as seems likely – he has been given the brief to impose more cuts, it can only get worse.