Back in 2013, the former Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, said he could live on £53pw in benefits.
This week, Luisa Hillard from East Cowes has written to the MP (who resigned as Work and Pensions Secretary last week), challenging him to come to the Isle of Wight for a few weeks and try to live on that amount. Here’s what she sent him. Ed
Dear Iain Duncan Smith MP,
I read your resignation letter with mixed feelings as you described your aspirations for ‘social justice’ as having been a motivator for accepting the position of Secretary of State for the department of Work and Pension.
Social justice, fairness and opportunity is something that everyone wants for themselves but which not everyone has. Unfortunately the on-going salami slicing of government funding to both benefits and local services has disproportionately affected the most disadvantaged people in this country, particularly working-age women and children, as you know.
Recent proposed Budget cuts are not defensible
I would agree with you that recent proposed Budget cuts are not defensible when at the same time there are tax cuts for the wealthy.
Regrettably the ideology of Austerity demands money saving exercises, regardless of social cost and seemingly regardless of the long-term effects, particularly on the NHS, education and local government services.
Many unable to work through disability/illness
In 2013 you released a progress report which claimed that 1 million people were on benefits for 3-4 years.
However the statistics of the DWP National Benefits Database at the time showed that of those, 600,000 (more than half) were unable to work due to disability/illness (WRAG), being single parents with at least one young child, or those being assessed in the Employment and Support Allowance.
On this basis the propagation of a myth regarding high numbers of ‘benefit scroungers’, rather than the reality of a tiny minority taking advantage of the system, has directed blame for Austerity measures towards the most vulnerable in society – namely single parents, the disabled and those suffering from mental illness – when really the blame should be laid squarely at the door of the financial institutions who crashed the economy, and at those corporations and individuals who dodge paying tax.
And so I get to the purpose of this letter. Also in 2013 it was reported that you claimed to be able to live on benefits of just £53 per week. As yet I do not believe that you have demonstrated this, despite a petition calling you to do so.
Live on £57.90 per week
However, serendipitously, you now find yourself with more time on your hands and perhaps desirous of a little quiet time away from the City.
I would therefore extend a cordial invitation to finally take up this challenge, although it would only be fair that you should have this limit raised to the current minimum rate (March 2016) of £57.90 per week.
Come to the Isle of Wight
I have the perfect location for this challenge in mind, to make it as pleasant as possible, which I would like to propose:
The beautiful and ‘unique’ Isle of Wight is largely an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with many Sites of Special Scientific Interest, ancient woodland, wetlands, chalk downs, fifty four miles of coastline and seventeen beaches which received awards in 2014. For the wildlife enthusiast, the cyclist, the rambler, the seaside paddler we are an idyllic destination.
And yet for residents the Isle of Wight ranks 109th most deprived out of a total of 326 local authorities (with 1 being the most deprived) and our overall level of deprivation has increased, ranking us 25 places worse than in 2007. Some facts:
- Despite some fairly affluent areas on the Island approximately 20% of our children are living in poverty.
- Of those families and individuals using the local Foodbank most are working but yet still unable to make ends meet.
- Our population has a higher than average proportion of older people, particularly those requiring care.
- Our wages are lower than the mainland and yet living expenses, such as transport, are higher.
- Many jobs are in the tourism industry, minimum wage and either seasonal or zero hour contracts.
Come for an early Summer ‘Holiday’
Please do come to the Island for an early Summer ‘Holiday’. We have some very high quality social housing for you to view and I’m sure you will enjoy occupying a pied-a-terre by the sea for a few temperate weeks.
I can promise that you won’t be bored – we currently have many wonderful volunteering opportunities across most local services.
A visit to the Isle of Wight will be an opportunity for you to gain an understanding of the unique challenges faced by an Island with our unusual demographic and for us to gain a better understanding of your government’s welfare reforms and direction of travel
Yours sincerely, Mrs Luisa Hillard of East Cowes, Isle of Wight