David Maddox: Welfare could be legacy of coalition

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith. Picture: PA
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith. Picture: PA
Share this article
Have your say

TONY Blair was, infamously, supposed to be obsessed with his legacy, and his successors have shown the same desire to make a mark on history.

Ironically, the two post-war Prime Ministers who did most to shape the world we live in and had genuine legacies – Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher – by all accounts did not spend much time worrying about how they would be remembered, and focused their efforts on getting things done.

But those close to David Cameron and Nick Clegg often refer to the legacy the Tory/Lib Dem coalition government will leave.

Top of the list is sorting out the economy and then they mention the hope that they will have kept Scotland in the UK. The Tories talk about the free schools and academy revolution in English education.

Perhaps, though, the greatest legacy, for good or ill, the coalition will leave is welfare reform, but it is not something you will often hear senior Tories or Lib Dems boast about.

If there is one member of the government who has true reforming zeal it is the work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who was once on the dole himself and who saw the light in terms of how welfare was a trap for the poor on a famous visit to Easterhouse in Glasgow.

Yet he and his policies are now much derided.

The so-called bedroom tax has come close to being the new poll tax and is now the benchmark for the SNP on why Westminster rule is so bad in the independence debate.

The biggest reform – bringing in a universal benefit to simplify an incredibly complex system – is close to being an expensive disaster and has been painfully slow to implement.

Efforts to make those on disability benefits go back to work have been portrayed as vindictive. Even the welfare cap, set at £26,000 – the equivalent of £35,000 of taxed income – is being seen in terms of making people homeless by slashing housing benefit.

The picture is one of reform driven by austerity and meanness to the most vulnerable, not a vision for making 
lives better.

Yet this is possibly a short-term view. The truth is that IDS’s work will probably be remembered for years to come as a turning point for the country as a whole.

Crucially, Labour have only threatened to overturn the bedroom tax and even the SNP doesn’t promise pre-IDS welfare for an independent Scotland.

If in the long-term it does get people back to work and slashes the welfare bill, as well as reducing poverty, then nothing else the coalition or other recent governments have done will be able to touch it for a great legacy.