The sketch: Simon Carr

Mr Darling discharges Exorcist-quality effluent on to floor of the House
Click to follow
The Independent Online

If this is the answer – "Dr Livingstone, I presume?" – what's the question? You have to fool around with the punctuation and so forth but the question (or in this case the answer) is: "What's your full name, Dr Livingstone?"

Yes, yes, that's enough, joke over. Now then: what question could provoke this answer? "To take account of DLA or SDP would have significant expenditure implications for the ILF and the terms of reference of the Quinquennial Review requiring ILF's policies and administrative procedures to be examined within the broad envelope of available funding."

Patrick McLoughlin was reading out a departmental answer he had received from Work 'n' Pensions. He wanted to know how anyone was supposed to understand anything that went on in that department

The minister had no comfort, he said he didn't understand it either. Yeah? Well, why is metro-LISP take-up of the WFTC 50 per cent of national average? Oh, er, is it because low income single parents in London don't know what the working family tax credit is? Why should they? Nobody else does. It's so boring that even the poorest workers – people who really, really need the money – can't get to grips with it.

And that's the department in a nutshell. Their computer system's trash, 40,000 of their staff are on strike, their in-house intellectuals preside over the biggest pension scam in British history, and their ministers discharge Exorcist-quality effluent onto the floor of the House.

No wonder Tories turn up in record numbers for Pensions 'R' Us question time.

Bill Wiggin reacted to the ministerial boast that benefit fraud and error had reduced by 18 per cent with a statistic of his own. Out of 460,000 cases of benefit fraud, amounting to £2bn, only 1 per cent had been successfully prosecuted. That wasn't very many, was it? It was more than had been prosecuted in Newark for housing benefit fraud, according to Patrick Mercer. There, delivery of the benefit was impossible, let alone detecting fraudulent claims for it.

David Willetts asked about the recent £16m advertising campaign to counter benefit fraud, run by the department. People had misunderstood the campaign. Two reports published by his own department showed that it had succeeded only in persuading people that it was much easier to commit benefit fraud than they'd thought.

Mr Darling, the minister responsible for the department ("responsible" is used in a casual sense) replied that no serious attempt had been made to measure fraud until 1995 and that fruit-bearing measures were in place.

Labour's Andrew McKinlay asked how extensive fraud was, in terms of people stealing another's name and National Insurance number. Little Weed's answer would have been more cogent than the minister's. The silver-haired booby finished a random selection from his pocket dictionary with the words: "Most people would take the view that if one arm of government knows something, the other arm should know it too."

Crispin Blunt explored some of the Government strategy of helping pensioners become self-reliant in retirement. They're doing this by destroying the advantages private pensions. Did you know you have to cash your pension fund in at the age of 75 and buy an annuity? And that the annuity rate is collapsing because regulations require funds to invest in gilts?

It is vital that Work and Pension policy is as boring as possible. There'd be a revolution otherwise.

One of the ministers asserted: "We're starting to win the war against the fraudster." What? Alastair Darling is resigning in disgrace and offering himself up for prosecution? Really?

Simoncarr75@hotmail.com

Comments