Iain Duncan Smith rejects benefits as way to tackle poverty

Tackling child poverty by boosting family income through benefits is a narrow approach that ‘looks set to have failed’ said Ian Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, in a major speech. The speech followed the government’s Autumn Statement, which included welfare measures that on the government’s own projections would lead to an increase in child poverty – another signal of the government’s intentions to develop a new approach to poverty less dependent on benefits.

Duncan Smith claimed there are problems with officially classifying child poverty as a family on 60 per cent or less than the median income, as this had pushed governments into introducing policies with ‘perverse incentives’. He argued that this target created a ‘poverty plus a pound’ approach – where authorities did only enough to keep some families just above the 60 per cent mark without really changing lives, while those at the very bottom could be left behind.

While benefits would always play a ‘vital role’ for some, such as people with serious disabilities, increased income did not always mean ‘increased well-being’. In some cases, families might be pushed further into welfare dependency, meaning their children were more likely to follow suit later in life. ‘I do believe that increased income and increased well-being do not always follow the same track. Income through benefits maintain people on a low income, whereas income gained through work can transform lives,’ said Duncan Smith. He went on to warn that ‘extra money provided to dysfunctional families may simply be spent on drugs or gambling, rather than on helping children’.

Despite David Cameron’s 2006 Scarman lecture, in which he argued that the Conservative Party had got it wrong in the 1980s by ignoring relative poverty, this was the latest sign of a government preparing the ground for a fundamental change in the definition of poverty.

The full text of the speech is available from the LSE.  

See also:

Redefining poverty

The Field Review

PSE Consultation response to the Field Review