Home > Benefits, Democratic Accountability, Media, Poverty, Stigma > Barbara Ellen The Observer: Child benefit: would someone give IDS a brain scan and quickly?

Barbara Ellen The Observer: Child benefit: would someone give IDS a brain scan and quickly?


Child benefit: would someone give IDS a brain scan and quickly?

Barbara Ellen,The Observer, Sunday 28 October 2012

His ludicrous and cruel proposition is an insult to the poor

I would like to volunteer to be shrunk and placed inside Iain Duncan Smith‘s brain. I’m reluctant (who wouldn’t be?), but after his declaration that poor unemployed people with more than two children should lose benefits, I feel I have no choice. I would require night vision goggles to see through the murk of his reasoning; also, a leaf blower to get rid of the dense cobwebs of what appears to be an entrenched 18th-century world view.

Stumbling around Duncan Smith’s brain, I expect to come across a giant crumbling cuckoo clock, ticking monotonously but always showing the wrong time, with two tableaux alternating beneath. One: a decent-looking fellow (circa 1950s) doffing his cap to his “betters”. Then another ghastly apparition: a couple slumped on a sofa, drinking, smoking, eating chicken from a bucket, cackling evilly as they fill out endless benefit forms for their many unkempt children. At one point, the woman will lift her skirts and give birth again, directly into the chicken bucket (“Nice little earner!”). Horrifying, but also long suspected: it’s Duncan Smith’s unshakeable vision of Britain’s deserving and undeserving poor.

If you think I’m being dramatic, you should hear him. In his view, hardworking (striving) people are procreating at just the correct rate to suit their budget. Meanwhile, poor unemployed (skiving?) people are just chucking them out, because they know the state will pay for them. Duncan Smith proposes that this group only receive aid for the first two children, presumably in terms of child benefit, tax credits, housing et al. However, those who already have an excess of children would not be affected, presumably to give the fecklessly shagging poor time to put their reproductive organs in order. (Oh, thank you kindly, most merciful gentleman!)

First of all, what is this: “Benefits China”? It brought in a one-child rule in one way; IDS wants a two-child rule in another way, but there seems scant ethical difference. And the truth is there aren’t even that many over-procreating skivers. It’s already been pointed out that, by targeting the surprisingly small amount of long-term unemployed, with more than two children, Duncan Smith won’t save much money. The vast majority of people on jobseeker’s allowance are back working within a year and only 4% have more than two children. Targeting these “skivers”, then, IDS would only claw back a few hundred million, nowhere near the amount (£10bn) George Osborne wants cut from welfare by 2016, on top of the benefits cap.

The Lib Dems have called this “Tory kite flying”. Others suspect that Duncan Smith is including in his private calculations the far larger, and infinitely more lucrative, group of struggling working parents who need their low wages supplemented by benefits. That would hit the spot – such savings could recoup billions. Inconveniently for Duncan Smith, such an action would also instantly negate his apocalyptic vision of mindlessly procreating “bogey-family” benefit scroungers.

Deep down, Duncan Smith must understand that no one in their right mind longs for a lifetime on benefits. He must also realise that people can’t see into the future to ensure they can always afford their children. Just like everyone else, he has access to statistics that prove that very few parents would ever plot towards such an existence.

So what’s this all about? While Duncan Smith tries to get people riled about skivers (leeching off us, laughing at us, procreating at us!), it appears to be a smokescreen for others he might decide to go after: people who are working, doing their best, but still struggling to survive and in need of short- or long-term help. That’s basically those “strivers” he keeps saying he’s protecting and representing. The idea that Duncan Smith doesn’t understand this is frightening, though not as frightening as the thought that he does, but doesn’t care. If it comes to it, I’ve got my goggles and my leaf blower. I’m ready to go in.

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