He rises from his chair to address the assembled delegation and a wave of expectancy charges through the conference room.
A moment of hush, before he starts his carefully worded speech. The cleverly timed opening sentence, deliberately humorous, causes a ripple of laughter throughout the audience. I am embarrassed to find myself, unconsciously, smiling along with everyone else.
The charisma that he exudes is almost palpable. The self confident manner, the way he projects his voice, and the way he has of drawing you in and making you think that he is talking directly to you, alone, like you’re the only person in the room.
And even I, with my extreme levels of cynicism, find myself caught up in Iain Duncan Smith’s speech at the Social Justice conference last October. I find myself believing that he really does understand how to transform the lives of the most disadvantaged families and individuals.
But, on the train journey back from London that evening, there is a niggling concern in the back of my mind that there is one fundamental problem with the entire Social Justice framework – The Chair of the Social Justice Cabinet Committee, The Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith (IDS) just happens (rather ironically) to also be the Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).
In 2004, as a backbencher, IDS founded the Centre for Social Justice, a centre-right think tank (independent of the Conservative Party) working with small charities with the aim of finding innovative policies for tackling poverty. In 2005, he was appointed Chairman of the Social Justice Policy Group, which was facilitated by the Centre for Social Justice, and the group’s aim was to “study the causes and consequences of poverty in Britain and seek practical ideas to empower the least well-off”.
The Group then went on to oversee the publication of several major reports on a wide range of subjects including family breakdown, welfare reform, criminal justice, educational reform, gang culture and children’s welfare. In March 2012 HM Government published the cross government strategy “Social Justice: transforming lives” which set out its aspiration for Social Justice. The strategy sets out a vision of society in which families and individuals, facing multiple disadvantages, get the support they need to turn their lives around.
At Doorway, because of the issues that we see affecting the most disadvantaged and marginalised individuals, we are firm believers in the concept of Social Justice. For us, the definition of the term is about equality and fairness between human beings. All human beings. Across all classes, races, genders, and cultures. Which is actually impossible to establish in a society that has such a rapidly increasing divide between the rich and the poor.
Social inequality, although very different, is directly linked to economic inequality. Whilst economic inequality is caused by the unequal accumulation of wealth, social inequality exists because the lack of wealth prevents people from obtaining the same housing, health care, etc. as the wealthy.
And therefore, I would publicly applaud anyone who showed the initiative to come up with the idea for such a potentially controversial group. But, the niggling concern that needs to be voiced is that the man who set up the Centre for Social Justice is the very same man who is now setting up the perfect conditions for the devastating impact of the DWP’s Welfare Reform Act on the most disadvantaged
In other words, as I understand it, he will actually be creating the exact conditions that he seeks to prevent. And I find that really rather puzzling.
And surely, therefore, the utopian ideals of Iain Duncan Smith’s Social Justice Group are sounding increasingly far fetched with every devastating welfare reform announced by him at the DWP.
But listening to IDS on that conference day, last year, before I was fully aware of the potential consequences of the Welfare Reform Act, I almost believed that he had the interests of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged at heart.
And I am now rather ashamed to admit just how naive I was.