Belfast Telegraph

Thumbs up! Let's see how much Cognac IDS buys on £53 a week

By Robert McNeill

Iain Duncan Smith has insisted he could live on £53 of benefits a week. There seems to have been some sort of mistake here. Perhaps he misheard the question and thought it was whether he could get a decent lunch for that.

Let's just factor in a few costs: your energy bills; your phone and internet bills (though hardliners would say the unemployed don't need the internet); something towards your council tax; oh, and you'll perhaps be wanting some food as well. What's that you say? Clothes?

On fifty-three quid a week? You're having a laugh. And – please – let's not have another of these TV programmes where various Tory chancers try it out. For one week. They should be made, as an online petition says, to live like that for a year. Everywhere you go these days, at least everywhere outside the Home Counties, the talk is of how "out of touch" these people are.

This is correct. Lots of people are out of touch. Folk in posh suburbs know as much about sub-Saharan Africa as they do about council estates. Not their fault. They just never visit them. No call to. Such places aren't even on the road to anywhere, generally speaking. I was with IDS 11 years ago when he visited the east end of Glasgow. He was genuinely shocked at the poverty, deprivation and drug abuse (all part of the Union dividend) that he encountered there. He'd never seen anything like it.

So moved was he that, for years afterwards, he kept in touch with the people of the area. He modified his views. But now he's Westminster's Work and Pensions Secretary and, since there's little work and everyone's pensions under threat, he has reverted to type and gone for radically cruel solutions. Slice the Tories which way you like – and let's just dwell on that image for a moment – they always go after the poor and mollycoddle the rich. For, if the rich were not mollycoddled, would they not flee the country, taking with them their mystical skills that no one else possesses?

Perhaps they could settle in France, Scandinavia or other low-tax economies? I've been banging on for years about the financial disconnect in many people's minds that makes them blind to million-pound bonuses and all-seeing about 10p on the minimum wage.

I believe it's because the former sums are too large to fit into the human brain. Brainy folk now say the so-called bedroom tax could become the new poll tax, meaning something that could topple the Tories and their Lib Dem poodles. Well, maybe.

There's certainly a lot of anger about. You can feel communal anger like that. It crops up in unlikely conversations with the man in the shop, a passing pensioner, your pals down the pub.

The Tories in power are like some hooligan that you put up with for a bit, and probably should have done something about earlier – instead of exploding eventually in a rage and booting their butt down three streets and through the park. So we could be in for a summer of discontent. We'll see.

IDS, meanwhile, looks in his wallet and tries to make sense of what he finds there. Sixty quid. Enough for Cognac, quails' eggs, and a new coat. Every week. Hoorah.

Belfast Telegraph


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