Stephen Crabb and Universal Credit

I was wrong. At least it looks that way from Stephen Crabb’s first speech since becoming Work & Pensions secretary. Iain Duncan Smith’s reason for resigning did not make sense: the cuts to disability benefits which were his ‘last straw’, were withdrawn anyway. I still believe his real reason was yet another adverse report on the Universal Credit (UC). The scheme was launched in 2012. In an earlier announcement Duncan Smith (IDS) had said a million people would be on the benefit by April 2014 and 7.7 million households would be on it by 2017.

But it has faced repeated IT problems, delays and criticism from auditors. In February 2016 the Department for Work and Pensions admitted only 200,000 people were currently enrolled, almost all singe people. A start has yet to be made on families. The latest target for a full roll-out is May 2021. Don’t hold your breath.

Having regard to the above facts, Stephen Crabb’s robust endorsement of the UC scheme at the earliest opportunity is surprising. He stated that it would be available in every job centre ‘this month’ (the speech was on 11th or 12th April), before the “ambitious full roll-out” for all first-time claimants.

I might not have been quite so confident in predicting the imminent collapse of the UC if I had first read a profile of Stephen Crabb written shortly after he was appointed in March 2016. His life experiences do raise the possibility that he wants the policy to succeed. It is not impossible that he has ideas up his sleeve that IDS did not.

I hope my fellow blogger Semi-Partisan Sam will accept some free publicity in return for my using him to try to understand what makes Stephen Crabb tick. What they have in common is being admirers of Mrs. Thatcher although they came from humble backgrounds, in Crabb’s case an extremely disadvantaged one. I have a hypothesis for Semi-Partisan Sam and Stephen Crabb being thatcherite, when she engendered a deep hatred in almost everyone else starting from similar circumstances. Both recognized their abilities, and knew they were among the few who could genuinely live the vision that Thatcher offered. Both have proved their above average ability.

Although Sam intrigues me in being able to ignore the sheer virulence with which this government persecutes benefit claimants, he does from time to time acknowledge that the Citizens’ Basic Income is a valid concept. As I regularly point out, the Universal Credit is in fact an emaciated version of the Basic income, based as it is on Dynamic Benefits, (September 2009) which shows in a series of graphs how the withdrawal of means tested benefits are identical to tax for the claimant losing them.

Semi-Partisan Sam does not fully grasp that the ‘persuasion not force’ logic of the Basic Income means that coercion is as unnecessary as it is cruel, but Stephen Crabb has experienced the sharp end of the poverty trap as the son of a benefit claimant. He has strong personal motives for removing it.

But the regime which enabled Crabb’s mother to use benefits as a safety-net, and eventually a springboard to full independence, was very different from the current workfare regime, where part time workers are badgered to look for other jobs, and forced to accept inappropriate jobs which stymie rational career moves, or be at the mercy of the nearest food bank, their benefits having been sanctioned. Crabb has the example of his father, who did apparently use what I call the poverty trap as a Scrounger’s charter.

We shall never know how Crabb’s father would have responded to being better off if he did work. I fear that Crabb’s mind set will, like Sam’s, prevent him from seeing that sanctions are unnecessary. I wonder if now would be a good time for Caroline Lucas to ask him to sigh EDM 974, which will ensure a parliamentary discussion on the relative merits of the basic income and universal credit as  ways of making work pay- if it gets enough signatures.

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