Ian Duncan Smith has 'belief' in benefit cap - but not proof

Mon, 15/07/2013 - 14:32 -- nick

Ian Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has been the driving force behind the introduction of the benefits cap which goes nationwide from today.

The cap means that those who receive out-of-work benefits will have them capped to 'national average pay', £26,000 for a family, although, as with so much this government does, sleight-of-hand is in evidence with many families on average pay getting tax credits on top of this, and these weren't counted when the cap was set.

So it isn't calculated accurately, but is it based on evidence? If Duncan Smith is truly committed to more people getting into work is the cap a help in this direction?

We are used to evidence-based policy from governments, and we need to know the evidence is there to begin to try to work out if a scheme does what it aims to do, or if it is a pure piece of political theatre.

Duncan Smith was told off in May about his misuse and misquoting of statistics by the National Statistics Authority (NSA), when he wrote that the benefits cap was having "the desired impact" by making 8,000 people get jobs instead of staying on the dole.

This followed a similar rap by the NSA on child support in March.

The NSA made clear that the figures did not show that the benefits cap was having an effect, that this assertion was "unsupported by the official statistics".

It pointed out in a letter to the TUC that its release of stats "explicitly states that the figures are ‘not intended to show the additional numbers
entering work as a direct result of the contact’."

Having already ducked a grilling from the Work and Pensions Committee in the House of Commons to justify his actions, Duncan Smith finally surfaced today on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

So did he come clean about the lack of any kind of statistical support for his policy?

Of course not.

Ian Duncan Smith decided to wash his hands of the scientific method altogether, and go back to a pre-enlightenment age of mystery and faith.

When asked about the link between finding work and the benefits cap, he told the interviewer "you cannot absolutely prove those two things are connected – you cannot disprove what I said. I believe this to be right. I believe we are already seeing people going back to work who were not going back to work until this group were capped."

He doesn't know; he believes.

Haringey Council has been implementing the cap since April, and they have found only 34 of 740 households had found work since having benefits reduced.

What does Duncan Smith say to this?

"We have not published evidence in this. I believe I am right"

Don't worry about the evidence; have faith in my beliefs.

The lack of affordable housing available to those who have been shot down by the benefits cap and again by housing benefit rules which only allow jobseekers to take the cheapest property in any area even when none is available; is the minister worried about this?

"We believe that in London there is plenty of accommodation and the vast majority of accommodation is available – a third of all rental accommodation in the private sector is available for people on social rents."

That word again - believe.

Ian Duncan Smith has replaced the use of facts - which keep contradicting him - with a quasi-religious belief in his own policies, a dangerous position for any politician to put himself in.

His road to Damascus - in this case, the Easterhouse estate in Glasgow - showed him that people needed forcing into work to avoid the misery of three generations of unemployment and no role models in a single house, another 'belief' that turned out not to be true.

The government has access to polling which tells it that 73% of the public support the benefit cap, an unsurprising figure when no political party or newspaper is making the case against it in public, and when most people have seen the real value of their wages drop for many years.

This provides fertile ground for misinformation to take hold, and the frantic pointing downwards by ministers and newspapers towards those who have least, rather than upwards to those that have most, and who have received a tax cut even as the poorest have had benefits cut, means many are looking in the wrong direction.

But could there be method behind Ian Duncan Smith's no-stat madness, so easily uncovered and so regularly publicised? Is the erosion of trust in politicians part of a calculated move by the Conservatives, a kind of heads-we-win tails-you-lose move?

Those who believe in the misinformation are likely to feel positively to towards the government, sympathising with its attitudes and supporting its attempts to 'crack down' on 'skivers'.

For those that don't, well, the more people believe politicians are not to be trusted, the less likely they are to vote.

This leaves the group that always votes from a sense of duty - older people - who disproportionately vote Conservative.

Could we be in the bizarre paradoxical situation that the destruction of trust by this government leads to it gaining a majority at the next general election?