Monday, December 09, 2013

Were Iain Duncan Smith's welfare reforms doomed from the start?

Iain Duncan Smith will face the Commons welfare and pensions committee over the problems with the introduction of his universal credit later today. Like most such occasions, it will probably prove a damp squib. The format of the meetings and the inadequacy of individual MPs' questioning mean witnesses are rarely forced into a damaging admissions.

But IDS's reform are in trouble. And, thinking about why that might be, I was reminded of an interview Vince Cable gave to a group of Liberal Democrat bloggers  in 2007.

Writing it up for my House Points column in the party newspaper, I described Vince's view of Gordon Brown:
Brown is in love with the power of the state and blind to its limitations. So schemes like tax credits begin with the best of intentions but founder on the inflexibility of bureaucracy and the complexity of people’s lives.
And maybe that is the problem with IDS too.

The universal credit is an appealing idea - John Pardoe always talked about bringing the tax and benefit systems together when he was the Liberal Party's economic spokesman in the 1970s - but maybe it too cannot cope with the inflexibility and complexity of our lives.

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Tigger said...

Surely his reforms were doomed from the start not for any political or philosophical reason but because Whitehall has farmed so many IT projects out to cheapskate charlatans over the years, producing no working results, sometimes after billions have been spent (not just £40mn), that there are no decent IT specialists left in most government departments.

I'm not sure whether he farmed the project out to a similar "promise everything, deliver nothing" bunch of nodding yes men charlatans or whether there were too few in-house IT experts left to do the job, but it always seemed pretty likely to fail.

Incidentally, there's nothing wrong with his idea *in principle*. It's exactly the same in theory as the "negative income tax" idea put forward by one of your own MPs (John Pardew?) in about 1970.

Whether the rates set by IDS would then be way below the poverty line and therefore unacceptable and unworkable is an entirely different matter.

Tigger said...

Oops! Didn't see your last paragraph for some reason. John Pardoe. Silly me! ;-)

Frank Little said...

Tigger is right about the break-up of IT expertise in central government. Too few people are saying this - for fear of being labelled socialist?