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Iain Duncan Smith: ‘Minister of the Year’ 12/07/2011

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Front Cover of this week's edition of 'The House' Magazine, the staff magazine for the Houses of Parliament. Wipe that smug grin off his face...

Many members will no doubt have noticed that today’s DWP Intranet homepage declares with great reverence the fact that the Department for Work and Pensions Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith (or ‘IDS’ as he is unaffectionately known) has been awarded ‘Minister of the Year’ by ‘The House’ magazine.

The arrogance of the ministerial and Westminster population (for it is they whom have access to the magazine, and therefore to vote in this poll) knows no bounds. We are given no explanation as to the criteria on which this vote was taken, so I suggest we look at his record ourselves.

Since IDS took over the Department for Work and Pensions on the parliamentary side (as opposed to the civil service side), unemployment in the UK has risen to 2.5 million in the official statistics – those of us who work here in Jobcentre Plus will know that the unofficial numbers would make this a lot higher. We know that the figures are manipulated and ‘massaged’ to keep them down, by kicking long-term unemployed into ‘workfare’ positions on less than minimum wage, leaving them with no real job after they have finished.

1 million of those unemployed are under the age of 25. An entire generation of young people thrown on the scrapheap, without any hope of a job, let alone one that uses the qualifications they spent thousands to attain.

We also know that in the last year, there has been the ‘scandal’ over benefit sanctions, where staff revealed that they had been given targets to sanction claimants, therefore withdrawing their rights to any money and pushing them further under the poverty line.

Social Fund staff and claimants await their final countdown with baited breath, as the money for the most vulnerable – those who are penniless due to loss or theft or benefit payments and need to apply for the (already pitiful) lifeline of a crisis loan; those fleeing domestic abuse, or who have been evicted from sheltered accommodation who go through the gruelling Community Care Grants application process – is all slashed up. In favour of a fundamentally degrading system of food vouchers (implying that claimants cannot make their own decisions as to where their money should be spent) to be administrated through the local authority who can – ultimately – decide not to offer this at all.

In addition, disabled and sick people are grilled and interrogated to the point of severe stress and potential harrassment over their right to claim disability related benefits. The Department renewed its contract with the completely incompetent Atos Origin company (of whose decisions, 40% are won on appeal) leading to death and increased illness in many people. Cases such as George from Chesterfield, whose heart conditions were ignored until he died on Jobseekers Allowance are a testament to this, which IDS and his peers should take on their shoulders. Quoting from this article in the Mirror:

They’ve been finding up to two in three applicants are “fit to work” – but many appeal and 40% are successful.

In George’s 39-minute exam, the “disability analyst” noted that George had angina, heart disease and chest pain, even when resting.

But this wasn’t “uncontrollable or life-threatening” and George “should be able to walk at least 200 metres”.

Atos’s report went to the Department for Work and Pensions, where George’s heart problems were ignored and he got six sick “points”, as he could only stand up for less than half an hour due to pain.

Short of the 15 points needed to get ESA, George was put on Jobseeker’s Allowance and told to find work.

This kind of treatment has led to huge protests nationwide, including the ‘Hardest Hit’ demo in London recently. More here on the Disabled People Against Cuts website.

Duncan-Smith is of course the minister for work and pensions. What’s happened there then? The retirement age to rise to 68 for the state pension and public sector pensions – teachers to work into old age and expected to keep up the energy and rapport for classes of 16 year olds as they did in their 20s. A blatent government campaign, demonising public sector workers as ‘scroungers’, ‘gold plated’ or ‘greedy’. Here’s some news – we pay taxes too. We also contribute to our pensions already. Our pensions are paid for doubly by ourselves, and actually, are very little. Under the new proposals many will drop to around £4000 a year, though they weren’t exactly all that much before. Contributions to rise by £40-£60 on average a month – who of us has that to spare?

Staff in the Department for Work and Pensions are the lowest paid in the Civil Service. We have also been under a pay freeze for two consecutive years. Our bonus system is massively geared towards huge payouts for IDS’ chums in the higher grades, while PCS members – largely at grades AA-EO – have their terrible pay compunded with an unequal rewards system. We should oppose the rewards/bonuses system, but while it exists, if it is performance related then grade shouldn’t be a factor. It is also the case that, the higher the grade, the more likely you are to achieve the higher box marking. More on this here.

Under IDS’ guidance, the Department for Work and Pensions has also been shedding front line staff like there’s no tomorrow. Thousands upon thousands of Fixed Term Contract staff have been handed their notice, or had to go through regular selection exercises to apply for their own jobs. Those who leave will end up with very little opportunity for employment and are likely to be signing on on the other side of the desk from their ex-colleagues. Those who stay will remain uncertain about their position.

At a time of rising unemployment, it is absolutely nonsensical to be sacking Jobcentre Staff. The Jobcentre queue gets longer, processing times increase, and more claimaints will end up applying for crisis loans that lead them into huge debts to the Government. Staff feel the pressure more and more with every passing week, with low level management forced to crack the whip at all times. Staff are left looking at the empty desks around them, and wondering what kind of public service we’re supposed to be providing.

These are just a few, just the tip of the iceberg, of the issues that have been going on under Iain Duncan Smith’s leadership of Work and Pensions. He has not increased employment opportunities (except through fake ‘workfare’ positions to massage statistics), and unemployment, especially for the young, continues to rise.

If someone can tell me on what basis the ‘Honourable’ Mr Duncan Smith was awarded this accolade, please do get in touch. There’s a comments section at the bottom.

Rosie Huzzard

Personal Capacity

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