It is well worth listening to the interview with Iain Duncan Smith earlier today. Some time during the interview is wasted with a silly, typically Today programme sort of questioning about ‘how come you might do more changes when the ones you are already introducing are supposed to be so radical and also they are not in place yet’. However IDS manages to control the irritation he must feel and scores some good points. In particular he turns the current fashion for the idea of ‘fairness’ to his advantage. Is it fair that some people who are poor and who work save up to enable their children get housing and meanwhile another young person who is not working may be able to get social housing – effectively being subsidized or fully paid for by those who are working and saving? Clearly it is unfair on the working family. There are perverse rewards and incentives here. Evan Davis did not openly recognise there was a genuine problem here – that would be far too co-operative – but acknowledged the truth of what IDS was saying only by not challenging it.
However it would have been nice if we could have had a bit more of the interesting information that IDS was only allowed to mention in passing. He said that the average age at which people access social housing has gone down. It must be obvious that the original idea of social housing was not to give every young person a home at the expense of others. As with all welfare, the idea was originally to help those who were ready to work and pay their own way. As so often, though, it degenerated in to an entitlement that discouraged work and self-reliance.
Social housing is the problem in British welfare that is hardest to deal with. No previous government in a generation has been willing to take it on. Not even Margaret Thatcher’s and certainly not the Tony Blair government which got welfare so wrong – at the insistence of Gordon Brown. This administration is the first and deserves credit for it.