‘Unemployed? Out Of Work? Who’s To Blame? – A Question & Answer Session With Iain Duncan Smith’.

by richardhutton

‘Unemployed? Out Of Work? Who’s To Blame? – A Question & Answer Session With Iain Duncan Smith’.

By the ‘Mail Correspondent For Work And Worklessness, Justica Herberger.



Work And Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith


Today we are very privileged to be interviewing the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith. This discussion follows hot on the heels of the minister’s recent, controversial comments about the long-term unemployed.

Thank you for joining us Iain.

– My pleasure.

Well Iain, today we will mostly be fielding questions from the public about your recent suggestion that the long-term unemployed should be made to perform several weeks-worth of manual labour.

Firstly, however, please could you outline what you meant by your proposal?

– Yes, yes – of course. Actually, it’s quite simple really. It’s about breaking the habits of the long-term unemployed. People must perform four weeks of unpaid work or lose their benefits. Play ball or it’s going to be difficult[1].

Okay. The first of our questions comes from Denise in Scunthorpe, who asks ‘Will participants be paid minimum wage?’

– No. We are trying to acclimatise people to actual work-based scenarios. Paying them minimum wage would only undermine that.

Would it not offer an incentive to people?

– No; not at all.

Denise also asks ‘isn’t the emphasis on manual and menial labour really just an intimation of punishment, not encouragement?

– Yes. Yes it is.

Would you say then that punishing people for being unemployed is fitting?

– We are not punishing people for being unemployed; merely for being out of work.

A colleague of mine asks ‘Will the forced manual labour apply to bankers or politicians?’

– No. These are highly skilled people doing an important job. 

Ahmed in Cornwall asks ‘is it right to make people work full-time for £65 a week on Job Seekers’ Allowance. Wouldn’t that break the minimum wage law?’

– I don’t have to answer that.

On a related note, Pete from Bridlington asks ‘Won’t making people clean streets put council employees out of work, and risk creating more unemployment?’

– I don’t have to answer questions like that either.

Somebody who has written to us under the pseudonym ‘Calfy’ asks if the programme will apply to the disabled?

– Absolutely: we need to flush out those who are not truly paralysed; and are merely pretending to suffer from cystic fibrosis. Let me tell you this, some so-called paralytics are very convincing – very convincing indeed. But take them to the top of a staircase and see how fast they move then. 

So, all disabled people will be made to clean streets?

– No, no – just the lazy ones you see on one daytime television programme after another; who always have some depressing story about why they can’t work. ‘Traumatised this’, and ‘amputated that’.  

So, will the programme then include wounded war personnel? The ones whose disabilities have proved crippling?

– Absolutely. We need to find out who’s really missing a limb; and who is really just hiding it.

Des’ree in Kent has asked ‘what about work-creation schemes? Aren’t they better than four weeks on the dole, in a field?’

– This is a work creation scheme. It’s about time that something was done to help the long-term jobless. If two weeks of sweeping streets doesn’t do it, then nothing will.

Manual work is obviously very limited in scope. Why, for example, would participants not be made to work in public relations, or for a media company? Wouldn’t gruelling, poorly-paid work be likely to have adverse effects, and discourage people from taking up similar roles?

– Spongers need to be weeded out. Gardening is an excellent solution.

Gardening? So horticultural work; or creating wildlife-friendly areas for the public to enjoy?

– No.

What is meant by gardening then?

– Digging ditches. Clearing silos, and the like. I trust you do not need me to outline the nature of street clearance.

Well, actually, could there not be a point made about concentrating on more dilapidated areas?

– No. 

Phil from Doncaster asks ‘Aren’t those on the New Deal programme already required to work for four weeks minimum in a work placement?’

– I don’t see how that affects the issue at hand.

Well, another of our questions follows on from this: ‘is this not just an attempt by a government minister to ablate questions on what they’re doing – or, rather, not doing – to create work and remedy the recession, by implying those who are unemployed are somehow at fault?’

– That’s ridiculous. I don’t have to answer that. If people do not agree to volunteer for compulsory labour, then their benefits must be stopped. If the unemployed dislike such strictures, then they shouldn’t be unemployed.  

Actually, we have a question from a migrant worker named Werner who is currently in work, and who asks ‘for every job advertised, there are c. 100-500 applicants: are the 499 unsuccessful ones lazy on account of that?’

– Surgery is never pain-free; and we need to remove the cancer.

The cancer?

– Yes. Millions of people are out of work. Some people blame the recession. I don’t: people need to pull their socks up. It is precisely that kind of ingrained attitude we are seeking to alter.

Simon in Chichester asks ‘how would two or four-weeks of labour change a person’s entire outlook, if – as you imply – their attitude is ingrained?’

– It breaks the habit of worklessness. This is all about getting people back into a working routine which, in turn, makes them a much more appealing prospect for an employer looking to fill a vacancy, and more confident when they enter the workplace[2].

We have a similar question asked anonymously. ‘What about people who insist that there are serious job shortages?’

– Nonsense. Nothing could be further from the truth. People are just not trying hard enough. They could perfectly well become newspaper columnists, food critics, media creatives, or podcast directors. Guests on television shows are often paid a great deal of money ­– and often for merely stating personal opinions. Style magazine staff, lifestyle gurus, blog administrators. The list of opportunities is endless; and there is literally nothing to stop those who are out of work from taking jobs in those sectors.

Another of our readers – Pedro from Cardiff – notes that ‘the government has just abolished the future jobs fund, which offered real work and real hope to young people. If you examine the spending review then changes such as cuts to working tax credit are actually removing incentives to get people into work. What they don’t seem to get about their welfare agenda is that without work it won’t work’[3]. Is he correct about that?

– Does unemployment create jobs? No.

What about Job Centre Personnel? Have their numbers not increased dramatically?

– Exactly. Those are people who could be bothered to make the effort.

But is your government not currently seeking to cut public sector funding? Won’t that create a catch 22 situation?

– I don’t have to answer that. 

Marjorie in Dundee asks ‘Would Mr Smith be willing to trade places with somebody who has been unemployed for the duration?’

– No: that would send the wrong message. If I were to become willingly redundant, it would only encourage others to follow my example. 

How then would you say that MP’s are sending out the right message?

– We have cut back in a number of highly significant ways.

But does the Prime Minister himself not have a highly paid personal retinue of advisors, who are all receiving their living from public money?

– Exactly. Those are people working for a living.

On a related note, another member of the public has asked ‘will members of parliament be taking a salary cut, and working for minimum wage?’

– You seem to have already made your mind up about that.

Well, no. It is a legitimate question.

– Look, we have some amazing statistics here – 2,000 unemployed in Bradford; over 50% of the residents in Hull are out of work. 3,000 public-sector employees are set to leave their positions throughout Britain. I could go on. Laziness is the only explanation; and it is evidently catching.

Are you suggesting that laziness has become a national epidemic?

– Oh, it’s far worse than that, I’m afraid. It’s pandemic. Nowadays the majority of the world’s population are poor. It’s time to get on your bikes people.

Somebody calling themselves ‘BlueThrough&Through’ has asked ‘should the long term unemployed be given food stamps rather than my money, so that they use it only for essentials?’

– No. Because it’s degrading and people have other needs outside of food alone.


– No, of course food stamps are an excellent idea. It would only add to bureaucratic expenditure, however; and prove more costly in the long-run. Honest tax-payers should not have to cover other peoples’ costs.

Actually, we have a question here from an economist called Sheila who lives in Melton Mowbry, which alludes directly to this issue. She asks ‘was it not public money which maintained the collapsing financial infrastructure which had itself precipitated the current recession? Is it fair that the general public should have to accept more measures which will affect the poorer members of society most drastically, while bank managers are taking high bonuses borne of public money, and taxes have not been raised for the wealthier members of society?

– I don’t have to answer that. 

Thank you for your time Iain.

– My pleasure.

Thanks also to the many readers who contributed questions. Have your say below.

[1] ‘Long-Term Jobless ‘Could Face Compulsory Manual Labour’. BBC; 7th November 2010: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11704765

[2] ‘Unemployed Told: Do Four Weeks Of Unpaid Work Or Lose Your Benefits’ by Toby Helm and Anushka Asthana in The Guardian; 7th November 2010:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/nov/07/unemployed-unpaid-work-lose-benefits

[3] See Douglas Alexander in ‘Unemployed Told: Do Four Weeks Of Unpaid Work Or Lose Your Benefits’ by Toby Helm and Anushka Asthana in The Guardian; 7th November 2010: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/nov/07/unemployed-unpaid-work-lose-benefits