The poverty of the argument against the IDS welfare reforms
Published in: Daily Mail
The Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith was really terrific on the BBC’s Today programme this morning – calm and persistent and, despite interruptions so bad it was impossible at times to hear what was being said at all, managing to get his point across and convey his essential decency and reasonableness.
Which is more than can be said for his opponents. His signature welfare reform faces opposition in the House of Lords today which is expected to sink it. If so, this will represent a triumph of twisted leftism over social justice, sentimentality over reason and posturing ideology over true compassion.
The proposal at the eye of this particular storm is to set a cap of £26,000 per year as the amount that a family can receive in welfare benefits.
The principle is one that is so overwhelmingly reasonable, fair and obvious that even the LibDem leader Nick Clegg and the Independent support it. This principle is that people shouldn’t be able to receive from welfare benefits more than they would if they actually went out and worked and earned £35,000 (before tax). To receive more, as in some circumstances now happens, is to create a pernicious poverty trap in which people find themselves effectively financially punished for working and so stay on welfare. This sucks them into a dependency culture, robs them of incentive or hope and traps their families in a catastrophic cycle of poverty. It is also utterly unjust to the working poor, whose efforts to support themselves are thus rewarded with a financial slap in the face.
Yet its opponents, led by Church of England bishops and knee-jerk LibDem peers led by the preposterous Lord Ashdown (with the Labour party displaying its habitual clear-sighted principle by opposing it while supporting it) are issuing blood-chilling predictions that thousands of children will be plunged into poverty by the ‘loss of child’ benefit’ and families heartlessly turfed out onto the streets.
Huh? As IDS said once again this morning, this is tantamount to saying that households bringing in £26,000 are unable to make ends meet – clearly ridiculous, since this figure is actually above the average annual household income. And why aren’t the bishops and the LibDems parading their consciences about the plight of the working poor who are sometimes forced to get by on less than those on benefits?
That discrepancy is unjust, immoral and a strong disincentive to work – the only way out of poverty. That’s why the IDS reform is supported by three-quarters of the general public – with around a third of them believing that the cap should be set lower, at £20,000 per year. The bishops, LibDems and Labour peers who oppose this measure are by contrast endorsing injustice and condemning people to unemployment and poverty.
The Church of England has achieved the signal feat of putting itself at the very head of this stampede away from justice and morality. Last year, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, raised his banner on this most warped of moral low-grounds when he claimed that no-one had voted for the Government’s welfare policies and accused ministers of encouraging a ‘quiet resurgence of the seductive language of “deserving” and “undeserving” poor.
The notion that poor people cannot be ‘undeserving’ simply because they are poor exposes the amorality at the core of the church’s position. It means that it draws no distinction between poor people who are honest and poor people who are dishonest; or between poor people who choose to work and poor people who choose to be idle. It draws no distinction simply because they are poor.
Yet moral choices are a key feature of being human. By its opposition to the IDS reforms, the church is showing once again that its treats the poor as if they were less than human – as an entire class apart. It reserves moral expectations solely for the better-off. And once again, it reveals the absolute fetish it has made out of poverty. Far from wanting people to escape from poverty through working, it is content they should remain trapped within it. Because for the church, which constantly attacks the ‘undeserving rich’, the poor by contrast are always deserving – deserving, it would appear, always to remain poor. Because poverty is spiritually noble, it seems, while wealth is obscene.
If these opponents succeed in voting down the IDS reforms today, they will demonstrate that infantile leftism still has its thumbs upon the British windpipe – thus continuing to squeeze the life out of British society, along with the church it has managed to all but destroy.