I had the pleasure of hosting Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith for a major speech on welfare reform earlier today at The Heritage Foundation on Capitol Hill. He also testified this morning before the powerful House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, the first foreign Secretary of State to give evidence before the committee.
I’ve known Iain for many years since my days working for Lady Thatcher back when he was party leader. Few British politicians understand the Special Relationship as well as IDS, and he has made a concerted effort to cultivate ties with leaders in the United States, frequently visiting Washington over the past decade both in opposition and in government.
It was refreshing to see a British official showing leadership on an issue that few Washington politicians have seriously addressed since the reforms of the 1990s. His message was a compelling one – that Britain (and for that matter the West as a whole) is facing up to the biggest cultural challenge of the early 21st Century – dealing with “entrenched and intergenerational worklessness and welfare dependency.” In his speech he attacked “an obsession with inputs – with pouring money into social programmes so that governments are seen to be doing something,” a sentiment that tens of millions of Americans would heartily agree with:
So we are now faced with a fundamental challenge. Levels of social breakdown high and rising. Millions of people stuck out of work on benefits. Millions not saving nearly enough for their retirement. And politicians – of all hues – addicted to spending levels as a measurement of success, rather than life change as a measurement of success.
These are areas ripe for reform – but how do you reform when there is no money? The answer – you change the way you reform. Not just cheese-slicing, but recalibrating whole systems so that you change behaviours, and change the culture that allowed spending to get out of control in the first place.
With good reason IDS consistently ranks at the top of ConservativeHome’s poll of cabinet ministers, with an approval rating in the latest survey of 84 per cent. Together with Michael Gove (who currently ranks second), he has been the most consistently impressive minister in Cameron’s government. It is not hard to see why he is so popular with the grassroots. Duncan Smith is a conviction politician offering clear-cut conservative solutions to major problems, emphasising individual responsibility, a strong work ethic, and traditional values as opposed to big government meddling. His welfare reforms are a major step in the right direction, and the most radical since the system’s creation in the 1940s. They deserve widespread support, on both sides of the Atlantic.
First appeared in The Telegraph