Monday, 21 March 2016

The real sin of Iain Duncan-Smith (it isn't what you think)

The unexpected resignation of Iain Duncan-Smith has got all the political comentators in a big tizzy.  The best explanation I've heard was that he had initially decided against resigning but had a rush of blood to the head when he saw the Treasury's statement after the budget, trying to shift the blame onto him and his deparatment.

There is no doubt that, since the Cosnervatiev Party effectively divided itself in two - there being little effective politial opposition to them these days - it means that the insurgent coup plotters around Johnson, Gove and the Brexit advocates are able to wrap themselves in the mantle of social justice, which they have little right to do.

I know this is unfashionable to say so - except anmong Cosnervatiev Party spokespeople carrying knives - but Duncan-Smith has all the attributes of a political hero. He thought deeply about social justice. He had a series of hypotheses about why social exclusion remains ednemic when there's money and when there's not. He worried away at it.

I'm not saying he was always right: the invasion of Atos into the lievs of disabled people was a major mistake. But he did realise there was a problem that needed solving - that, all too often, the welfare state appeared to be trapping families and communities in dependence. At least he understood that the convetional Fabian solutions had been failing. His ability to ask difficult questions was in many ways his greatest attribute.

He also deserves credit for wrestling with the short-termism of the Trasury, who appeared to have little interest in his project. And for pushing ahead with bundling all the complex benefits into one universal credit - the first step, it seems to me, to bringing the tax and benefits system together into a basic income to underpin people's lives.

But he has made one serious mistake.

He isn't alone in making it. Whitehall has been making the same mistake over and over again. It dates back to the Blair years and, as I may have mentioned before, the coalition failed to look critically enough at the Blairite legacy in public services.

It is the faith, based on no evidence at all, that automating all systems - removing the human element - makes things more efficient and more effective.

This single mistake threatens to torpedo the whole universial credit policy, which would be a tragedy.

The truth is that, when you take the human element out of the system, and expect peope to interact with infleible systems - or keep the human element in and make them inflexible (another DWP mistake) - it can work for people who have standard problems, situations and reactions. But for anyone else, who doesn't fit into their assumptioms, starts bouncing around the system seeking solutions. And because there is nobody with the flexibiltiy to listen and act when they land, they create costs.

It is the absolutely classic  'failure demand' phenomenon identified by the system thinker John Seddon, who has his own things to say about universal credit too.

This is doubly tragic. Not only does it threaten to sink an important reform, it also adds huge costs to the system when there is pressure from the Treasury to cut costs, and those costs inevitably fall where they shouldn't - on people who need the money rather than on the stupid system that is too inflexible to be cost effective.

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4 comments:

Oh, la la Non. said...

*cough* Bull! *cough*

The Atos debacle cost the lives of 1300 people, his conscience was not even tickled then.

He jumped before he was pushed.

Mark Treveil said...

The human element has its problems too, as demonstrated by GPs over-prescribing antibiotics. The nice people interacting with the disadvantaged feel pressured to respond and so there is a risk of completely undoing any discipline in the system.

I am personally totally unclear what is real and what is Guardian-spin regards welfare cuts. A picture on Facebook recently showed a woman in a wheel chair holding a banner saying that her mate had 'scored zero' for disability benefit despite having breast cancer. She apparently died a few week later. Is breast cancer now a claimable disability?

Louise Alexander said...

And the people who the least fit into standardised boxes are those who are differently abled. The sooner we can recognise individuality and difference, the easier it will be to espouse those ideals.

Oh, la la said...

Dear Mark Treveil,


Have you had Breast cancer ? Know someone who had breast cancer ? Real life is not like in Hollywood movies.

Let’s say you have it, you have to find a good consultant, get the right info, pray for the right hospital, get help if you have children, monitor the toll your illness takes on your loved ones, become selfish, get support and hope you don’t die.
Your employer gets you on SSP around £90 a week for 28 weeks, and then if you are not better, and if you can’t work ( got to tell you, a heavy lifting work is tough on the upper body after breast cancer, even a cushy office work, plus your explained absence on your CV might scare an employer ) you can get ESA. That if you survive.
Bloody women, honestly, they "should get down on their knees" in thanks for a support system that male folks have kindly set up for them, so they don’t become Cosette and mess up the streets.

Those lefty papers, honestly, compassion for the poor and downtrodden is so last century. Happy sailing.