Numbers in a twist, Mr Duncan Smith?

The next trial is in Harrogate, the spa town with the lowest number of unemployed in Yorkshire. It’s like testing a raincoat by taking it on holiday to Saudi Arabia

Share

One of the finest talents of this government is its ability to rant about “public-sector waste”. Ministers explain that the global economic crisis was caused not so much by the banks, who don’t have much impact on money really, but by Trafford Council spending £3.25 on custard creams for meetings, while Co-op own brand digestives were on a three-for-the price-of-two offer all summer, so with that level of waste is it any wonder our car industry has shut down.

Or they’ll make things up – about the mayor of Lambeth ordering himself a panda to ride on around the town hall, or a fire authority in Stafford paying 50 million quid to get its sirens replaced with a rap specially written by Jay Z that goes “bee ba bee ba move your motherfucking car.”

So they’ll be delighted at the revelation yesterday from the National Audit Office that Iain Duncan Smith’s attempt to bring in a “universal tax credit” instead of the current benefit system has so far wasted £34 million on computers that can’t be used.

Iain Duncan Smith should now be on every news channel yelling, “You see, I’m typical of the frivolous inefficiency you can expect when you allow the public sector to take charge.

“It’s all right for me, I live in a £2m Tudor mansion, but I expect the hard-working people of Britain to pay for my endless round of ill-thought out idiocy. Let’s hope I’m sold off to a private investor who can find some way of stopping me being a constant drain on the public purse.”

To help him put this case, the auditors blamed his department for “weak government, ineffective control and poor governance”, which, translated from the official language these people use is, “You USELESS STEAMING KNOB, now GET OUT before you burn the place down.”

So he was interviewed on the news, but missed his opportunity, because instead of yelling about waste he insisted that the money lost wasn’t all that much, and he had “intervened early” when the problem became known. This is true, because it was only two years ago that he was warned the system wouldn’t work, and now only two years later he’s intervened by appearing on television to say it wasn’t his fault.

There’s an impressive creativity with the way Duncan Smith’s department uses language. For example, it insists the new benefit system was “launched successfully in a trial in Greater Manchester”. But the trial only took place in the market town of Ashton-under-Lyne, which is one small part of Greater Manchester. They might as well have said, “We’ve tried it out in the universe and there doesn’t seem to be a problem, so we’re ready to start it in the Midlands as well.”

It may be that Ashton-under-Lyne was chosen for the first trial because it’s an area with relatively few claimants. Similarly, the next trial is in Harrogate, the spa town with the lowest number of unemployed in Yorkshire. Then comes Bath, and Shotton, one of the most prosperous areas in Wales. It’s like testing a raincoat by taking it on holiday to Saudi Arabia, then saying, “I stayed dry as a bone all week, it works perfectly.”

When Iain Duncan Smith was questioned about how far behind these trials seemed to be, he said, “The numbers are irrelevant.” That’s a novel view of statistics. He’d be an interesting football manager, announcing he’d bought a new striker as he seemed all right for Ashton-under-Lyne so he’s successful in Greater Manchester, and he hasn’t scored any goals but that doesn’t matter as the numbers are irrelevant and in any case he was only 32 million quid so hardly worth fretting about.

The problem may be more than whether his department has introduced the scheme efficiently. It could be that the whole idea of universal tax credit is based on the idea that we pay too much out in benefits, so that remaining unemployed pays more than being in work. But no one seems able to find a genuine example of where this is the case. The most comprehensive study suggests that on average, even starting a job for 30 hours a week on the minimum wage, will pay 25 per cent more than remaining unemployed.

The Department of Works and Pensions’ own model, used by civil servants to calculate the effect of benefits, doesn’t suggest a single case where someone would be worse off working than staying out of work.

So this whole institution, costing billions and terrifying the people it affects, has been created to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. They might as well spend 50 billion setting up a department to stop an attempted coup by caterpillars, or quelling a threat by unruly cloud formations. So it’s possible that the real purpose may be to persist with the idea that the people who ruined the economy are the poor.

It would also appear, if you looked at the matter long enough, that unemployment goes up and down for reasons other than the unemployed deciding they’re better off not working. Or maybe not, and the reason Iain Duncan Smith hasn’t started trials of the universal tax credit in areas with large unemployment like Middlesbrough and Merthyr Tydfil, is everyone’s so rich there, he couldn’t afford to stay there long enough to see the results.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Our political system is fragmented, with disillusioned voters looking to the margins for satisfaction  

Politics of hope needed to avert flight to margins

Liam Fox
 

Cameron's speech was an attempt to kill immigration as an election issue

Andrew Grice
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game