Iain Duncan Smith has irritated me today - and probably half the nation.
His comments, harking back to Norman Tebbit thirty years ago, have suggested that the next step in his battle to wean people off welfare will be to send them to jobs potentially several hours away. This is an excerpt from the interview:
There are jobs. They may not be absolutely in the town that you are living in. That's the key point. They may be in a neighbouring town... My point was, you need to recognise that the jobs don't always come to you, sometimes you need to go to the job.
Now, on principle, I agree.
I spent six months commuting from Darlington to Stockton by train with a significant walk to the station at the Darlington end. I was temping whilst studying for my MA in Middlesbrough and was happy to land any job to keep me going. I started work at 8:30 and routinely set off before 7:00. It was a tad cold on those winter mornings but I had my Ipod and a book for the train. It worked out fine, even on the two nights of the week when I had to continue my day onto Middlesbrough and study until 9:00 PM. I think I complained of exhaustion on more than one occasion but I got through it because I knew it wasn't forever.
Perhaps that's the point. I'm not sure if IDS expects such a working situation to be long-term but your life could start to suffer as a result if he does. I'm lucky. I didn't have childcare arrangements or a mortgage (I paid my rent upfront at the beginning of the year). My household bills, my food and my transport costs were all I had to worry about. However, I was lucky.
If you're in a situation where both halves of a couple have a lengthy commute to work then surely extra childcare comes into play? This is notoriously expensive, particularly after-hours. Some people are lucky enough to have family to help out: many haven't. There is no guarantee that when travel costs and extra items such as childcare are deducted from the commuter's wage that they will actually be better off than they were on benefits. Bear in mind that train fares are set to soar and bus subsidies have been cut.
Admittedly, we're in a sticky situation. There is no quick fix and individuals are going to have to make difficult decisions for some time to come. One of these may be commuting to the next town until things settle down. But how long can families sustain this? More importantly, will there be jobs to go to?
It does come down to a desire to take control of your own life and finances. I am wholeheartedly in favour of this. However, the point where the politicians are failing at the moment is when they persist in lumping the idle scroungers together in one category with the people who have genuinely assessed these options.
There needs to be a human element considered when politicians make these sweeping statements. As we've seen with George Osbourne in the last few days, the human element is usually sadly lacking from their consideration.