Welfare to Work

Iain Duncan Smith, the conservative elite and welfare reform

Iain Duncan Smith, the conservative elite and welfare reform

Written by Dr Floyd Millen, yesMinister Director 

I recently attended the Leonard Steinberg memorial lecture at which the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith delivered the memorial lecture.

Iain Duncan Smith gave a very rounded and coherent outline to his approach of supporting families into work.

In one of his better performances, the Secretary of State presented a cerebral account of the why’s and the how’s of his welfare reform agenda. There was a difference to his pace, tempo and delivery than when he usually presents and speaks in other settings. He was clearly amongst friends. What was particularly impressive was that the secretary of state cleverly and competently anchored his position within a theoretical (not ideologically) and institutionally structured context which was not simply about ‘work being good’ but about the value and the collective interest vying to be derived from new ways of reciprocity.

Through the work that IDS had done with Graham Allen MP and with the recent launch of his new foundation, Mr Duncan Smith addressed the central function and role of philanthropists and investors in being co-participants and contributors into communities, and communities having an upward interest in the realisation of the social and wider returns of this relationship. – in my words -he spoke about a sense of ‘fellow feeling’, of reciprocity linked to social and financial reward.

I caught a glimpse of a very wealthy, posh man – who would probably have no time for someone like me – who during his military service in Northern Ireland developed a view of the world that has been an important catalyst in his life. He has clearly arrived at the place where he has realised that the seeds of change has to come from within and that hardship was/is at times the best catalyst for success.

I also caught a glimpse of a man who offers the same level of tough love to his children that he is offering to those on benefits, telling them to go out and make life for themselves and – in his case – telling his children not to rely on their parents success and wealth, NOT to play on their family name but to get ahead in life.

I conclude; Iain Duncan Smith is a rare breed… he is a conviction politician.

Notwithstanding this, I would love to be in a position where my parents were connected and wealthy enough to tell me not to trade on my family name or rely on my inheritance. I would swap my poverty for his wealth any day. I,- and many like me – need no catalyst to strive, we just need ‘a fair chance’; but without the wealth and familial connections, the access and success that he and those in attendance have will always evade people like me. We will always remain on the margins, you see, it’s not only about money it’s about who you know…

At this event, I knew no one and no one knew me, I left quietly into the night no one will remember me – except maybe David Trimble who I sat next to. In that brief meeting a few worlds collided but very few people realised. Would I say that they were out of touch no. I was out of touch.

This morning we woke to the news that Nick Clegg will announce breaking news from a government commissioned report which shows that the life chances of the poorest and the better off are polls apart. Who would have guessed?


  1. I have been to many meetings on the left and felt just as much on the margins. There is such rigid segmentation across all of our society. Feeling good about ourselves isn’t as importan at all as connecting with each other. Being confronted on an equal footing with other people.

    • Of course, you are absolutely right. In fact, over the last 15 years, the left has arguably become more elitist and exclusive than the lay person realises; but it hides behind a veneer of collective politics, implicit socialism which is marinated with self interest and an adoration with wealth.

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