7 Days

Lockerbie verdict One of the two Libyan intelligence officers accused of causing the 1988 Lockerbie jumbo disaster got life-imprisonment. The Scottish court, after an 84-day trial held in the Netherlands, found the second Libyan not guilty. The convicted man, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, plans to appeal.

Jail basher Sir David Ramsbotham, the chief inspector of prisons, condemned Brixton Prison officers for their "disgraceful attitudes towards those in their care". His report described conditions in the prison, already under investigation by the Commission for Racial Equality for alleged racial discrimination, as "scandalous".

Phone box BT will introduce no more phone boxes. Revenue from the 141,000 boxes, of which 16,000 are the red boxes originally designed by Sir Giles Gilbert in 1936 and synonymous with Britain throughout the world, dropped by 37 per cent over two years. Mobile phones are to blame.

Bad language The Broadcasting Standards Commission announced that violence, sex and swearing on terrestrial and satellite television had reached record levels. A quarter of the incidents of swearing occurred before the nine o'clock watershed. The report singled out satellite broadcasters as being the worst offenders at swearing.

Holocaust Memorial Day Prince Charles, Tony Blair and the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, attended a star-studded ceremony at London's Westminster Central Hall - 56 years after the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland - to commemorate those killed by the Nazis.

Bank blues A leaked internal document from the World Bank, the biggest provider of cheap loans to developing countries and a target for critics of globalisation, described its staff as demoralised and fearful of its president, James Wolfensohn. The memo accused the former Wall Street banker of being "isolated from reality".

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Laughing all the way to No 10?

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No, IDS, welfare isn't a path to wealth. Quite the opposite, in fact

Far from being a lifestyle choice, welfare is all too often a struggle for survival.

Iain Duncan Smith really is the gift that keeps on giving. You get one bile-filled giftbag of small-minded, hypocritical nastiness and, just when you think it has no more pain to inflict, off comes another ghastly layer of wrapping paper and out oozes some more. He is a game of Pass the Parcel for people who hate humanity.
For reasons beyond current understanding, the Conservative party not only let him have his own department but set him loose on a stage at their conference, despite the fact that there was both a microphone and an audience and that people might hear and report on what he was going to say. It’s almost like they don’t care that the man in charge of the benefits system displays a fundamental - and, dare I say, deliberate - misunderstanding of what that system is for.
IDS took to the stage to tell the disabled people of Britain - or as he likes to think of us, the not “normal” people of Britain -  “We won’t lift you out of poverty by simply transferring taxpayers’ money to you. With our help, you’ll work your way out of poverty.” It really is fascinating that he was allowed to make such an important speech on Opposite Day.
Iain Duncan Smith is a man possessed by the concept of work. That’s why he put in so many hours and Universal Credit was such a roaring success. Work, when available and suitable and accessible, is a wonderful thing, but for those unable to access it, the welfare system is a crucial safety net that keeps them from becoming totally impoverished.
Benefits absolutely should be the route out of poverty. They are the essential buffer between people and penury. Iain Duncan Smith speaks as though there is a weekly rollover on them, building and building until claimants can skip into the kind of mansion he lives in. They are not that. They are a small stipend to keep body and soul together.
Benefits shouldn’t be a route to wealth and DWP cuts have ensured that, but the notion that we should leave people in poverty astounds me. The people who rely on benefits don’t see it as a quick buck, an easy income. We cannot be the kind of society who is content to leave people destitute because they are unable to work, through long-term illness or short-term job-seeking. Without benefits, people are literally starving. People don’t go to food banks because Waitrose are out of asparagus. They go because the government has snipped away at their benefits until they have become too poor to feed themselves.
The utter hypocrisy of telling disabled people to work themselves out of poverty while cutting Access to Work is so audacious as to be almost impressive. IDS suggests that suitable jobs for disabled workers are constantly popping out of the ground like daisies, despite the fact that his own government closed 36 Remploy factories. If he wants people to work their way out of poverty, he has make it very easy to find that work.
His speech was riddled with odious little snippets digging at those who rely on his department. No one is “simply transferring taxpayers’ money” to claimants, as though every Friday he sits down with his card reader to do some online banking, sneaking into people’s accounts and spiriting their cash away to the scrounging masses. Anyone who has come within ten feet of claiming benefits knows it is far from a simple process.
He is incredulous that if a doctor says you are too sick to work, you get signed off work, as though doctors are untrained apes that somehow gained access to a pen. This is only the latest absurd episode in DWP’s ongoing deep mistrust of the medical profession, whose knowledge of their own patients is often ignored in favour of a brief assessment by an outside agency. IDS implies it is yes-no question that GPs ask; you’re either well enough to work or signed off indefinitely to leech from the state. This is simply not true. GPs can recommend their patients for differing approaches for remaining in work, be it a phased return or adapted circumstances and they do tend to have the advantage over the DWP’s agency of having actually met their patient before.
I have read enough stories of the callous ineptitude of sanctions and cuts starving the people we are meant to be protecting. A robust welfare system is the sign of a society that cares for those in need. We need to provide accessible, suitable jobs for those who can work and accessible, suitable benefits for those who can’t. That truly would be a gift that keeps giving.