Colin Brazier talks to Iain Duncan Smith MP about his views on mobility for the unemployed
Any quotes used must be attributed to Sky News, Sunday Live
COLIN BRAZIER: Well get on your bike, it was the infamous message Norman Tebbit gave to millions of unemployed people in the 1980s. Thirty years on the coalition government is seemingly giving the jobless similar advice and telling the rest of us to prepare to work longer as well of course. The man in charge, the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, Mr Duncan Smith thank you very much for finding your way in this morning, I know you have had a difficult journey in. Inevitably all the newspapers will say here you go, on your bike, they are invoking the memory of Lord Tebbit as is now, thinking back to the 1980s, saying to the jobless get on your bike and find work, that’s what you’re doing now.
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:I was listening actually to that interview with Ed Balls. I know he is standing for the leadership but really I think he needs to grow up a little bit and remember he was in government only two months ago. The reality is that two things are very important. The first is that they left us with a massive deficit, we have to sort that out and we have had to indeed take some tough measures in the budget to resolve that. What I was talking about, and I am talking about, is the next phase of proper welfare reform that actually sees the money go to the poorest in society but also recognises two other features. The first is right now for people who wanted to go to work under the last government, work simply doesn’t pay for them because when they have had all their benefits withdrawn and everything else, they end up often worse off. You can see margin tax rates for some of those people, young people, of 90p in the pound. That is regressive so what we want to do first of all is change that so that that they have that smoother path in, they can keep more of their own money so somebody looking for work knows actually it’s a good deal to go to work and we want to reform that and we want to get therefore the value of going to work much higher in a very obvious way.
The second thing is to remember something else. In the UK today under the last government we have created almost ghettos of poverty where people are static, unable to get work because there isn’t any work there, unable therefore to get to work because the salaries, the wages aren’t high enough so they can’t get there and they are stuck so we have got two and three generations unemployed in households and whilst there has been more work created over the last 15 years, actually most of that has gone to households that already have work.
So what I was saying to the papers over the weekend was this: look we also have to recognise making work pay, absolutely, but also where families want to a) travel to work or go a longer distance to work, we need to be flexible enough to say if you wish to do that we need to find a way of helping you. Helping you is the key because at the moment …
COLIN BRAZIER:Well maybe you didn’t hear what Ed Balls said but he said that …
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:I did hear what he said, ludicrous.
COLIN BRAZIER:So you repudiate what he said, you are not going to say okay you’d better move or the benefits will stop?
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:Absolutely not, not at all. What’s ludicrous about his attitude is this. First of all he says, oh that means they’re not going to bring work to those areas. How ridiculous, of course we’ll do everything we can to make sure that work goes to places like the Lea Valley near my area where there used to be lots of manufacturing and the Ford Factory, that’s all gone but of course we want to be able to do that but we also have to recognise that patterns of work change in society. Some areas suddenly come up, some areas don’t. What we have managed to do is to lock people into historic locations and give them no flexibility to be able to say, well maybe we will … and I’ll tell you what really got me thinking about this was I bumped into lots of people here in London just before Christmas who said to me they were from the north east, the north west, from Scotland, all saying they had not seen their families for over a year as they struggled to find work, because they were desperate to find work. They couldn’t bring their families with them because they would lose their housing rights and that would mean they would all live in poverty somewhere down here and they were going back for Christmas, some of them for the first time in two years. I was shocked, I was really shocked and it made me think that what Ed Balls is saying is absolutely what’s wrong. It’s politicians saying oh nothing must change when in actual fact people out there are desperate to be able to both get work and be with their families and I think as a decent progressive government we need to look at ways that we can find that for them and I’ll give you one example. The middle class do this all the time, you have a house, if you have to move work you can use that as a portable asset, you can sell it, you can rent it, you can move somewhere else but why is it that for a group of people on low incomes, we leave them trapped rather than give them that same portability?
COLIN BRAZIER:How are you going to create that portability? That portability takes years to create, our council housing stock has gone through the floor, you are part of a coalition government that if anything is probably more reluctant to build on the green belt than hitherto has been the case. It’s fine saying to people, coercing them or cajoling them, saying look, leave that big council estate in West Yorkshire, Merseyside, the north east, there’s loads of jobs down in the south east, on your bike, come down here. Where are they going to live if you are cutting their housing benefit?
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:It is not about moving down to the south east, it’s about creating jobs in areas, incentivising work to move. For example, the problem in many cases public sector pay has outstripped private sector pay so in many areas in parts where …
COLIN BRAZIER:Not for much longer of course, you are putting a freeze on it.
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:Well that of course is one of the things you have to do, is try and get that balance right because I met a businessman the other day who has got a factory which he had set up, up in the north east, and he said one of the problems for him is he couldn’t get people to do some of the work there because public sector paid much higher salaries than he was able to afford. The point I am simply making is that there is a balance in all of these things. What we have to recognise is yes, of course we desperately want to redistribute work all over the country, that’s an absolute priority, to incentivise, to do regional areas, to get these things going but we also have to recognise that sometimes it is only a matter of a ten or fifteen mile distance that we’re talking about here. We are not talking about travelling from the north to the south east, just travelling ten or fifteen miles can be a major exercise for somebody who is trapped in an area where there is no work nearby. Travel to work costs, all these things, are real problems for them so trying to deal with that is what we are talking about. It is not threatening people, far from it. Most people I meet on these housing estates, they desperately want work and they are trapped and it is trying to help them find a way out.
COLIN BRAZIER:You mentioned the north east, let’s say you are not unemployed, you have actually got a job in the north east, you are part of the 75% or thereabouts of people in the city of Newcastle who in some way or another are employed, directly or indirectly, by the state. The department that you work for is part of a department that is facing 25% cuts in its budget. You lose your job, it’s not a question of not having one, you’ve got one and you are about to lose it because this government’s budget and spending reviews which are pending, are going to absolutely devastate the public sector in those parts of the country.
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:Let’s get this in context though. We do sit here, and this is the interesting thing about what Ed Balls and others are saying, they were already committed to over £40 billion of cuts. If he can tell me where it was that he wasn’t going to cut, because they already had plans to reduce the public sector so let’s get this absolutely right. Nobody wants to come in to government and start this process immediately but we are lost if we don’t, we have to, we have to get the markets right. Of course there are going to be job losses in some areas but also, as we get the economy moving, we have already seen the plans under the new Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts, employment will rise over the next few years and as that employment rises we’ll see a balance. Yes, in some areas there may be jobs lost but we are hoping and believe that those will be replaced by other jobs that come forward. Of course nobody wants to start like this at the beginning, that’s why I’m saying if we don’t get on and do these reforms that enable people, that make work pay and also enable people to be more mobile if they wish to, the key here is if they wish to, then we will not succeed. So doing that is critical and I just wish a newly moved Opposition such as the Labour party needs to think again carefully about its opposition. They need to stop opposing everything and start saying what they would do and I offer them this, if they work with us, because I’ve got Frank Field working on some of this right now and I want to bring in others, if they work with us we should say to the British people, collectively we will do our best to make sure we change Britain to make sure work is shared and distributed possibly, evenly across the country. That’s my ambition.
COLIN BRAZIER:You have always seemed to be uncomfortable with spin, did you recoil a little bit during the budget speech, did you recoil a little bit when you heard George Osborne talking about the budget being progressive? Even the Institute for Fiscal Studies says if anything it was regressive and particularly once the public sector cuts start coming in, really coming in and biting, that's when we will see this budget in all its truthfulness and actually this is a budget which hits the poorest harder than the richer.
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:Actually I don’t agree with that. Actually if you look at the IFS report you will see that what they refer to as regressive or progressive as being debatable.
COLIN BRAZIER:Do you think it was a progressive budget?
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:I think yes, absolutely. What I did, I insisted when we looked at some of these reductions that we put extra money into key areas. When it comes to housing benefit we put another £40 million in to help some of those changes over, extra funds, we put huge money into child tax credits and we now know from the Office of Budget Responsibility that actually this means that child poverty will not rise as a result of this budget and no, I don’t, I think what will happen is that these things will adjust. After all it is at least a year and a half to two years before many of the people will be asked to reassess their positions so on balance I think actually this budget is as fair as it is possible to be and at the same time – remember this is important and the public know this – to reduce this deficit is absolutely critical. If we don’t, we will be in the places of places like Greece where we will be making cuts, in Ireland if you go there they are making absolute and real cuts to benefits. For example we were told we were going to freeze benefits before this, we didn’t freeze benefits. I fought long and hard to make sure that we uprated them next year and in fact the uprate next year will be higher than Labour were planning before they left office so yes, of course no one wants to come in and make these changes but do you know what, I think together George and I worked out a system that really does make this a fair budget. Of course no one wants to make those reductions but we have to do it and if you have to do it, protect the poorest and that is my absolute priority.
COLIN BRAZIER:If you were still at the … I suppose you are still doing something at the Centre for Social Justice, the think tank that you set up in Opposition, what would they make, what do they make of the fact that we got these statistics from the, the government statistics from the Office for National Statistics last week saying that one child in three in Britain now, one child in three, is living without their father or mother. Tell me what you think of those figures, what it says about Britain and why this government is not, as the Conservatives suggested, offering tax breaks to try to make sure there are two parents around bringing up their kids?
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:Well you have got to see this over the lifetime of the parliament and David Cameron is absolutely committed to his family, pro family agenda, in fact so committed is he that he spoke to me about …
COLIN BRAZIER:The coalition partners probably aren’t though, are they?
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:No, no, also Nick Clegg, he agreed … like all these things common sense prevails and by the way I have to say I think Nick Clegg has been incredibly brave to take on all these reductions and …
COLIN BRAZIER:I’m sure he’d thank you for that but …
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:No, no, he has, I think the coalition partners have been remarkable actually in the way that they have stayed true to the necessity to get Britain first, put that first above their party and the same for the Conservatives. Together we are facing something which we have to do for our country but when it comes to family, I think David Cameron has been very clear about this. He is going to chair a special committee made up of people like myself and Nick Clegg to look at this, to look at ways that we can change these figures. We have some of the worst family break up figures, some of the worst household figures, where no one works and where there is major dysfunction in those families and we have to change that so all I am simply saying is he remains as committed, you can see this over the lifetime of the parliament and not in one year, and I promise you this will be the most pro-family government there’s been for a generation.
COLIN BRAZIER:One final question on the immigration cap, I’m not sure we’ve had a government response on this question, where do we stand on the immigration cap now because in terms of work and pensions there are some people in business saying we’ve got skills shortages right here and we haven’t got the home grown talent to fill it.
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:Our policy remains the same, the policy as set out by the coalition and it will be, it hasn’t been announced how exactly but the Home Secretary has already made that clear so I don't think there is any issue on this. I will say one thing and this is another message again for Labour and others, one of the reasons we have had to bring in so many people from abroad is again because we have a workforce that is often too static and we need to get that trained and also mobile so that we can fill those jobs. Five and a half million people without work at a time when people are coming in to the country to find work does to suggest to you there is something wrong with our system here in the UK so helping the poorest in Britain will actually be helping them to get jobs.
COLIN BRAZIER:I do actually have one final question, someone was talking to me about our next guest and his story of the Battle of Britain, your father fought in that amazing aerial campaign and of course the veterans of it are slowly dying off and occasionally it is possible to think it was the most seminal battle of World War Two but then you pick up your Anthony Beevor and historians like that who say all the decisive things actually happened with the Germans and the Russians, what happened over here was a bit of a side show.
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:I don’t agree with that actually and I don’t think he actually said that. Of course the key land battles were fought hugely in eastern Europe, we know that but my father fought at the tail end of the Battle of Britain and he fought all the way through the war as a commando and he got gallantry awards, he had a tough war.
COLIN BRAZIER:You served in the army yourself didn’t you?
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:Yes, I did, nothing like my father, my father was a hero frankly and so many of them were too. He is sadly no longer with us but the truth is, had Britain lost the Battle of Britain we would have been invaded by Germany and what would have then happened is that America would have been completely isolated on the other side of the Atlantic with nowhere to come and that would have meant Germany could have turned all their forces to eastern Europe and that was the key. Had they done that, they probably would have beaten the Russians so really winning the Battle of Britain was a critical battle, just as winning some of those battles in the east was critical but at the time as long as Britain was here, Germany had to face two ways and whilst they faced two ways, they had to keep huge forces in France making sure Britain couldn’t invade with the Americans. It was critical and I must say we should all stop for a second and pause and just remind ourselves we owe everything to those brave men who fought in 1940.
COLIN BRAZIER:Amen to that. Iain Duncan Smith, thanks very much for coming in today.