Iain Duncan Smith has dismissed the online petition calling on him to prove his claim that he could live on £53 a week as a “stunt”. In a sense, of course, he is right. The petition is not really intended to do what it purports to do. It is intended to make a political point. Just as the Tories cynical linking of the killing of the six Philpott children with benefit recipients is a “stunt” intended to demonise benefit recipients. Just as the scene where Oliver asks for more is a “stunt” written by an angry young man called Charles Dickens to make the point that the reforms being introduced by the IDSes of his day, the harsh new Poor Laws, were cruel and unworthy of a civilised country.
Last week the Telegraph – alone, I think, of the right wing press – published an article attempting to describe the reality of life on £53 per week. This was the headline
Welfare reform: £53 a week... You do the maths
Gas £5, Water £3, Electricity £8, Food £15, Travel £13, Debt £4, Phone £5, Social life £0. Iain Duncan Smith claims that he could live on £53 a week. But for many people it is the miserable reality
From time to time politicians and celebrities have tried a week or so on benefits. Many have given up; all have found it gruelling. However, all these exercises have been necessarily artificial. They all knew this life was time limited and, most importantly of all they never try to do this with their own children. It would be regarded as cruel. However, this is the reality of life for countless modern Oliver Twists.
What would Dickens say of the events of the last week? More people driven to food banks. More children in poverty. And the very rich made even richer. (One rich person in particular became richer - the Queen had a £5 million or £6 million pay rise from the taxpayer).