On the day that the Lords’ debate on the Welfare Reform Bill reaches the total benefit cap, which has huge implications for housing and homelessness, Red Brick favourite Iain Duncan Smith has hit the airwaves big time. Unfortunately interviewed mainly by people who don’t know their arsenal from their elbow, his extraordinary statements are largely unchallenged.
As readers will be aware, Pinocchio was prone to fabricating stories and creating tall tales, but his nose grew longer and longer as he did so. After his interview on the Today programme, I’ll be surprised if Mr Duncan Smith managed to get out of the studio without serious rhinoplasty.
His first major claim was that the total benefit cap will lead to ‘no increase in child poverty’, despite all the evidence to the contrary. It seemed that the main reason he could claim this was that the Department of Work and Pensions had not even modeled the change in poverty because ‘you can’t directly apportion poverty to this measure’ and they don’t believe it will increase because they ‘will work with families to find a way out’. Evan Davies has plainly never heard a whackier claim for a product since Dragons Den.
The second claim was that the poor deluded Bishops – he really doesn’t think much of Bishops – were wrong to say that families would be losing child benefit (they argue that CB is not a means tested welfare benefit therefore should be excluded from the cap). Ludicrously, he said this is because the total benefit cap applies to all benefits therefore you can’t actually say that they will be losing CB when they reach the cap.
Thirdly, IDS said there will be no increase in homelessness ‘as the public understand it’ – whatever that means. He accused opponents – again including the unfortunate Bishops – of ‘bandying about’ a definition of homelessness that included counting anyone as homeless whose children shared a room. Personally I have never heard anyone say such a thing. Nobody he said would be made homeless without a home to go to but nor would the Government ‘trap people… in homes they can’t afford to go to work from’.
It would seem to me that the definition of homelessness that should be used is the one set out by the Government itself in considerable pieces of legislation. By their own definition, and in the admission of one Eric Pickles, welfare reform will increase homelessness by at least 40,000 and that excludes people who will fall outside the definition of priority groups.
There are vital amendments down today, including the exclusion from the total benefit cap of child benefit and the exclusion of homeless households in temporary accommodation being promoted by Labour front bench spokesperson Lord Bill McKenzie.
I hope Labour Peers will turn up in force to stand up for the tens of thousands of children who will be driven into poverty and the tens of thousands who will be made homeless by these measures, whatever Pinocchio claims.
Update 24 January: The Lords passsed the amendment moved by the Bishop of Rippon to exclude Child Benefit from the total benefit cap. The Government has said they will seek to reverse their Lords defeats when the Bill returns to the Commons. The amendment to exclude homeless households in temporary accommodation was defeated. Many good points were made in the Lords debate and all of the speeches can be found here.