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These child benefit reforms are vicious and ideologically backwards

I used to think Ian Duncan Smith cared for the poor and dispossessed

Iain Duncan Smith wants to take child benefits and tax credits from mothers who have a third child and any more thereafter. Unbeatable China has a draconian one-child policy, so why not us? There is no public outcry because the proposed policy only targets the children of the most disadvantaged, those “feral”creatures, the enemy within. I thought IDS had come to understand such hopelessness.

Eight years ago, he went to Easterhouse estate in Glasgow, home to some of the poorest of British families with multiple problems, some self-inflicted, but most caused by the indifference of society, an amoral economic model and hard political decisions. He met Janice, whose young son, a heroin addict, had died of an overdose. The caring Tory cried. We were touched. So too was Bob Holman, a dedicated community worker on the estate: “[IDS] responded to poor people in a positive manner... he was impressed by the contribution of volunteers... I thought him a decent man.”

I was at a Labour Party fringe meeting in 2005, when IDS called (in his deep voice with matching deep conviction) for the poorest of our citizens to get adequate resources so they could be part of the communities around them. I clapped heartily and thought the man was in the wrong party. Now we know: those were crocodile tears and the crocodile came back to maul the people he seemingly feigned to care about.


IDS is apparently an ideological progeny of those, who, over history, wanted to curtail the reproduction of humans they considered a nuisance, feckless, feeble and dispensable. They came from the left and right – and included the Webbs, Bernard Shaw and Marie Stopes and Sir Francis Galton who, in the 1880s, wanted the state to limit “unwanted” populations.

In Total Politics magazine recently, historian Dr David Stack disclosed that Churchill was inspired by an American, Dr HC Sharp, a fanatic advocate of the sterilisation of “degenerates”. When Churchill became Home Secretary, he tried and failed to get such a policy through but predicted: “It is bound to come some day.” That day came in 1974, with Keith Joseph, who said in a speech that Britain’s “human stock” was threatened by mothers of “low intelligence” who were producing “delinquent denizens of borstals, sub-normal educational establishments, prisons and hostels for drifters”. His political career bombed. Recently, Tory Lord Flight said the poor were breeding too much and again was duly chastised. IDS has faced nothing like the same opprobrium. Hard times, hard hearts.     

Brilliantly marketed government spin has turned off all public sympathy for those crawling through life at the bottom. According to Labour MP Karen Buck, only 1.5 per cent of the benefit population have never worked. 584,000 families who need help are in low-paid jobs, strivers with no rights, no job security, no voice, especially in recessionary times. The demonisation of the workshy and disabled is just as pernicious. Too many private companies paid to revitalise and retrain are in it for just profits; businesses and governments should, but rarely fund, small charities which bring on those without skills or confidence, or the will to go look for jobs.

Fading hope

Until 1998, I worked part-time on one of these projects in Tower Hamlets. Most of my students were hungry, worked hard and tried to enter the job market. I saw the light of hope fade after some months. Many turned to crime and three mothers had more babies. One explained: “They won’t give me a chance, don’t think I am anything. The baby makes me feel I am something. Maybe the children will get a chance one day.” I still see the three women when I can – one English, one Bangladeshi, one African. Life has only got darker for them.

This brings me to last week’s column, when I wrote about the new racism waking up around Britain, from football clubs to school playgrounds. Some accused me of “hating” the working classes and the poor. I spent years with the dispossessed and still carry on that relationship through volunteering. I come from that background myself so to hate them would be to hate myself. However, I do want to unconditionally apologise to Millwall football fans for writing that [they] “behave like animals” when black players come on. I should have said “some fans” and not tarred all the supporters carelessly. Many are committed anti-racists and I upset them. I was wrong.

This apology does not extend to abusive emailers, one of whom wrote to me to call me a “ racist, lying slut”, adding “you should be deported along with your disgusting tribe”. They may be a minority but their savagery is real. Racism has not been seen off from these isles, not yet. Perhaps IDS will see what he is unleashing and feel shame.