Thursday, 24 October 2013

Try listening...

I have to admit to a soft spot for John Major. Perhaps because he was a Brixton boy - he lived in a house just 10 minutes from my own on Brixton Hill - or because he, like me, was a local councillor. His widely quoted comments in Parliament on Tuesday were fascinating. A very clear passage that contains an important message deserves wider dissemination. 

He said:
 “Iain Duncan Smith is trying to reform benefits. I truly wish him well. But it is enormously complicated and unless he is very lucky, which he may not be, or a genius, which the last time I looked was unproven, he may get some of it wrong. I hope Iain is wise enough to listen to a wide range of opinion because some of his critics will be right. If he listens only to the bean-counters and to cheerleaders concerned only with abuse of the system then he will fail.”

And a brilliant example of what Major was talking about was illustrated this week. 

The Chartered Institute for Housing have undertaken a major review of how the cap on benefits is working in one of the pilot areas; Haringey. It suggests serious problems in the rationale underpinning the reform proposals. Instead of looking carefully at the research, and considering the potential lessons, DWP dismiss the report out of hand. Indeed worse, a shocking interview on "Today" by Mike Penning MP included the suggestion by him that the BBC were showing bias by even reporting the research.

Politicians of all parties do the democratic process huge damage when they are not prepared to engage in proper debate, and show they are open to the "range of opinions" that John Major was talking about. Likewise Departments must avoid acquiring a track record of dismissing alternative views and attacking critics. We need evidence-based policy making. 

Charities' role, when working on the front line, is to bring those alternative views and the evidence of the impact of policies to politicians' attention. Politicians ignore them at their - and the country's - peril.
Just look at the recent ATOS experience.  Charities have continued to highlight abuse and poor decision-making by this company. Government and the DWP should listen - and act. Not deny the evidence and castigate the organisations collecting it to highlight abuse . 

This is yet another reason why the sector must be on guard. Not just on the well publicised damage promised by the Lobbying Bill, but on attacks on our 'professional' campaigning role. Someone must stand up for evidence.

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