Like the Roald Dahl of politics, Conservative leader Iain Duncan
Smith celebrates his first year in the job by telling the tale of
the five giants. He names them as failing schools, crime,
substandard health care, child poverty and insecurity in old age.
“The giants’ footprints,” he warns, are “in every neighbourhood in
Duncan Smith is trying to resonate with the five giants first
invoked by Sir William Beveridge, the founder of the welfare state.
Beveridge named them in the 1948 as want, disease, squalor,
ignorance and idleness. Duncan Smith’s fresh invocation is part of
the “new” Tory party’s championing of “vulnerable people”.
For those who work in social policy, the question that counts is
how he proposes to defeat these five Goliaths. What few clues the
speech offered indicated not a fresh turn in Tory philosophy but a
throwback to a simplistic division between “good” and “bad”
citizens – the former costing the state little; the latter a
This is a pity because David “Two Brains” Willetts, a member of the
shadow cabinet, understands well the importance of mutuality in the
welfare state, recognising that in the course of a single life
dependence and independence will interweave.
He wrote, in the 1980s: “Regardless of whether people in need have
been reckless or feckless or É unfortunate, there comes a
point when the exact explanation of how they became destitute
ceases to matter. They have a claim on us simply by virtue of being
compatriots.” Unless, he continued, “the very fact an adversity is
insured against makes us more irresponsible.É”
Willetts was talking about welfare dependency. New Labour, for all
its faults, has recognised in social policy that the vast majority
don’t “choose” an allegedly easy life on the dole. A complex set of
circumstances, an absence of networks, depression and lack of
confidence all play a part.
Duncan Smith’s speech was not about improving the safety net, nor
accelerating “joined up” policy making, nor investing resources.
Instead, he talked of rewarding those already helping themselves –
the small businessman; the “good” citizen; the responsible
Ironically, he has overlooked the potential in his own speech. The
uncertainty of lifelong earning, the fragility of pensions, means
the electorate will respond not to a government that steps away
from the citizen in the name of “freedom” – but one that strongly
endorses state and citizen working together for mutual benefit.