Sir Iain Duncan Smith
Duncan Smith in 2020
|Secretary of State for Work and Pensions|
12 May 2010 - 18 March 2016
|Leader of the Opposition|
13 September 2001 - 6 November 2003
|Leader of the Conservative Party|
13 September 2001 - 6 November 2003
|Shadow Secretary of State for Defence|
15 June 1999 - 13 September 2001
|Shadow Secretary of State for Social Security|
2 June 1997 - 15 June 1999
|Chairman of the Social Justice Policy Group|
12 September 2016
7 December 2005 - 12 May 2010
|Member of Parliament|
for Chingford and Woodford Green
10 April 1992
George Iain Duncan Smith
9 April 1954
|Alma mater||Royal Military Academy Sandhurst|
|Years of service||1975-1981|
Sir George Iain Duncan Smith (born 9 April 1954), often referred to by his initials IDS, is a British Conservative Party politician. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions from 2010 to 2016, he was previously the Leader of the Conservative Party and Leader of the Opposition from 2001 to 2003. He was first elected to Parliament at the 1992 general election as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Chingford - which he represented until the constituency's abolition in 1997 - and he has since represented its successor constituency of Chingford and Woodford Green.
Duncan Smith was born in Edinburgh and served in the Scots Guards from 1975 to 1981, seeing tours in Northern Ireland and Rhodesia. He joined the Conservative Party in 1981, and eventually succeeded William Hague as Conservative Leader in 2001; he won the leadership election partly owing to the support of Margaret Thatcher for his Eurosceptic beliefs. Duncan Smith was the first Catholic to serve as a Conservative Leader, and the first Conservative leader to be born in Scotland since Arthur Balfour. In 2010, The Tablet named him one of Britain's most influential Catholics.
Many Conservative MPs came to consider him incapable of winning an election when he was Conservative Party Leader. In 2003, Conservative MPs passed a vote of no confidence in his leadership; he immediately resigned, and was succeeded by Michael Howard. Returning to the backbenches, he founded the centre-right Centre for Social Justice, a think tank independent of the Conservative Party, and became a published novelist. On 12 May 2010, the new Prime Minister, David Cameron, appointed Duncan Smith to serve in the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. He resigned from the Cabinet on 18 March 2016, in opposition to Chancellor George Osborne's proposed cuts to disability benefits.
In 2019, Duncan Smith served as chairman for Boris Johnson's leadership campaign, resulting in an emphatic win, with over 50% of MPs and 66% of the Conservative membership voting for Johnson to become the next Leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister.
Duncan Smith was born in Edinburgh, the son of Wilfrid George Gerald "W. G. G." Duncan Smith, a decorated Royal Air Force flying ace of the Second World War, and Pamela Summers, a ballerina. His parents married in 1946. One of his maternal great-grandmothers was Ellen Oshey, a Japanese woman living in Beijing who married Pamela's maternal grandfather, Irish merchant seaman Captain Samuel Lewis Shaw. Through Ellen and Samuel, Duncan Smith is related to Canadian CBC wartime broadcaster Peter Stursberg (whose book No Foreign Bones in China records their story) and his son, former CBC vice-president Richard Stursberg.
Duncan Smith was educated at Bishop Glancey Secondary Modern, Solihull, until the age of 14, then until he was 18 at HMS Conway, a Merchant Navy training school on the Isle of Anglesey, where he played rugby union in the position of fly-half alongside Clive Woodward at centre. In 1975, he attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and was commissioned into the Scots Guards.
According to the BBC, Duncan Smith's biography on the Conservative Party website and his entry in Who's Who originally stated that he had studied at the University of Perugia in Italy. A BBC investigation in 2002 found this statement to be untrue. In response to the BBC story, Duncan Smith's office stated that he had in fact attended the Università per Stranieri, a different institution in Perugia, for a year. He did not complete his course of study, sit exams, or gain any qualifications there. Duncan Smith's biography, on the Conservative Party website, also stated that he was "educated at Dunchurch College of Management" but his office later confirmed that he did not gain any qualifications there either, that he completed six separate courses lasting a few days each, adding up to about a month in total. Dunchurch was the former staff college for GEC Marconi, for whom Duncan Smith worked in the 1980s.
Duncan Smith was commissioned into the Scots Guards as a second lieutenant on 28 June 1975, with the service number 500263. He was promoted to lieutenant on 28 June 1977, and retired from the army on 2 April 1981, moving to the Regular Army Reserve of Officers. He ceased to belong to the Reserve of Officers on 29 June 1983.
During his service, Duncan Smith served in Northern Ireland and Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where he was aide-de-camp to Major-General Sir John Acland, commander of the Commonwealth Monitoring Force monitoring the ceasefire during elections.
At the 1987 general election Duncan Smith contested the constituency of Bradford West, where the incumbent Labour Party MP Max Madden retained his seat. At the 1992 general election he stood in the London constituency of Chingford, a safe Conservative seat, following the retirement of Conservative MP Norman Tebbit. He became a member of the House of Commons with a majority of nearly 15,000.
A committed Eurosceptic, Duncan Smith became a constant thorn in the side of Prime Minister John Major's government of 1992 to 1997, opposing Major's pro-European agenda at the time (something that would often be raised during his own subsequent leadership when he called for the party to unite behind him).
Duncan Smith remained on the backbenches until 1997, when the new Conservative leader William Hague brought him into the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Social Security Secretary. At the 1997 general election, boundary changes saw his constituency renamed Chingford and Woodford Green and his majority of 14,938 was reduced to 5,714. Duncan Smith realised the dangers that he and neighbouring Conservative MPs faced, so redoubled his efforts: "We spent the final week of the campaign working my seat as if it was a marginal. I held on but everywhere around me went." (Notable Conservatives defeated in North London included Defence Secretary Michael Portillo, Education Minister Robin Squire, Foreign Office Minister Sir Nicholas Bonsor, Sir John Michael Gorst, Sir Rhodes Boyson, Sir Michael Neubert, Ian Twinn, Hartley Booth, Hugh Dykes and Vivian Bendall.) In 1999, Duncan Smith replaced John Maples as Shadow Defence Secretary.
William Hague resigned after the Labour Party continued in government with another large parliamentary majority following the 2001 general election. In September 2001, Duncan Smith was the successful candidate in the Conservative Party leadership election. Although he was initially viewed as an outsider, his campaign was bolstered when Margaret Thatcher publicly gave her support for him. His victory in the contest was helped by the fact that his opponent in the final vote of party members was Kenneth Clarke, whose strong support for the European Union was at odds with the views of much of the party.
Due to the September 11 attacks, the announcement of Duncan Smith gaining the Conservative leadership was delayed until 13 September 2001. In November 2001, he was one of the first politicians to call for an invasion of Iraq and held talks in Washington, DC, with senior US officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz.
The 2002 Conservative Party conference saw an attempt to turn Duncan Smith's lack of charisma into a positive attribute, with his much-quoted line, "do not underestimate the determination of a quiet man". During PMQs, Labour backbenchers would raise their fingers to their lips and say "shush" when he was speaking. The following year, Duncan Smith's conference speech appeared to have abandoned this technique in favour of an aggressive hard-man approach which received several ovations from party members in the hall. "The quiet man is here to stay, and he's turning up the volume", Duncan Smith said.
Duncan Smith said in December 2002 that he intended to be party leader for a "very long time to come". This did little to quell the speculation in Westminster regarding his future. Amid speculation that rebel MPs were seeking to undermine him, Duncan Smith called on the party to "Unite or die." On 23 February 2003, The Independent on Sunday newspaper published an article saying that 14 MPs were prepared to sign a petition for a vote of no confidence in Duncan Smith (25 signatories were then needed) for a vote on his removal as leader.
Despite the gains made in the 2003 local elections, Crispin Blunt, the Shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry resigned. He called Duncan Smith's leadership a "handicap" as he had "failed to make the necessary impact on the electorate," and said that he should be replaced.
These worries came to a head in October 2003. Journalist Michael Crick revealed that he had compiled embarrassing evidence, this time of dubious salary claims Duncan Smith made on behalf of his wife that were paid out of the public purse from September 2001 to December 2002. The ensuing scandal, known as "Betsygate", weakened his already tenuous position.
After months of speculation over a leadership challenge, Duncan Smith called upon critics within his party to either gather enough support to trigger a no-confidence motion or get behind him. A no confidence vote was called on Wednesday 29 October 2003, which Duncan Smith lost by 90 votes to 75. He stepped down eight days later, with Michael Howard being confirmed as his successor. The same week his novel The Devil's Tune was released to considerable negative reception.
Duncan Smith became the first Conservative leader who did not lead his party in a general election campaign since Neville Chamberlain.
After his term as party leader, Duncan Smith established the Centre for Social Justice in 2004. This organisation is a centre-right think tank which works with small charities with the aim of finding innovative policies for tackling poverty. (Duncan Smith served as the centre's chairman until he joined the Cabinet in May 2010, and remains its Life Patron.) He also served under Michael Howard on the Conservative Party's advisory council, along with John Major, William Hague and Kenneth Clarke.
On 7 December 2005, Duncan Smith was appointed Chairman of the Social Justice Policy Group, which was facilitated by the Centre for Social Justice. Duncan Smith's Deputy Chair was Debbie Scott, the Chief Executive of the charity Tomorrow's People. The group released two major reports, Breakdown Britain and Breakthrough Britain. Breakdown Britain was a 300,000 word document that analysed what was going wrong in the areas of Economic Dependence and Unemployment, Family Breakdown, Addiction, Educational Failure, Indebtedness, and the Voluntary Sector.
Breakthrough Britain recommended almost two hundred policy ideas using broadly the same themes. On their website the group said that the Government has so far taken on sixteen of the recommendations, and the Conservatives twenty-nine. Of those twenty-nine, ten were unanimously rejected by the European Court of Justice, as they deemed the proposals "unfit for a modern democracy" and "verging on frighteningly authoritarian". The ECJ's comments were dismissed by Duncan Smith, stating that there had been "no such talks" between them, and provoked attacks on the European Union by some members of the party.
In September 2006 he was one of fourteen authors of a report concerning Anti-Semitism in Britain. He was also one of the only early supporters of the Iraq surge policy. In September 2007, he called for Britain to withdraw from the war in Afghanistan and to fight in the war in Iraq indefinitely.
This section may be too long to read and navigate comfortably. (December 2014)
Following the 2010 general election, the Conservative Party formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, with David Cameron as Prime Minister. Cameron appointed Duncan Smith to the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, with responsibility for seeing through changes to the welfare state.
Outlining the scale of the problem, Duncan Smith said almost five million people were on unemployment benefits, 1.4 million of whom had been receiving support for nine or more of the last 10 years. In addition, 1.4 million under-25s were neither working nor in full-time education. He said; "This picture is set against a backdrop of 13 years of continuously increasing expenditure, which has outstripped inflation ... Worse than the growing expense though, is the fact that the money is not even making the impact we want it to ... A system that was originally designed to support the poorest in society is now trapping them in the very condition it was supposed to alleviate."
In June 2010, Duncan Smith said that the Government would encourage people to work for longer by making it illegal for companies to force staff to give up work at 65, and by bringing forward the planned rises in the age for claiming the state pension. Duncan Smith told The Daily Telegraph that pension reforms were intended to "reinvigorate retirement". "People are living longer and healthier lives than ever, and the last thing we want is to lose their skills and experience from the workplace due to an arbitrary age limit," he said. "Now is absolutely the right time to live up to our responsibility to reform our outdated pension system and to take action where the previous government failed to do so. If Britain is to have a stable, affordable pension system, people need to work longer, but we will reward their hard work with a decent state pension that will enable them to enjoy quality of life in their retirement."
He also announced a far more radical series of reforms intended to simplify the benefits and tax credits scheme into a single payment to be known as Universal Credit. A major aim of welfare reform was to ensure that low earners would always be better off in employment. "After years of piecemeal reform the current welfare system is complex and unfair," said Duncan Smith, citing examples of people under the existing system that would see very little incremental income from increasing their working hours due to withdrawal of other benefits. Outlining the scheme in more detail in November 2010, Duncan Smith promised "targeted work activity for those who need to get used to the habits of work" and sanctions, including the possible removal of benefits for up to three years for those who refused to work. He said welfare reform would benefit all those who "play by the rules" and ensure "work always pays more" by easing the rate at which benefits are withdrawn as income rises.
The next phase of welfare reform announced by Duncan Smith in late 2011 required benefits claimants with part-time incomes below a certain threshold to search for additional work or risk losing access to their benefits. "We are already requiring people on out of work benefits to do more to prepare for and look for work," he said. "Now we are looking to change the rules for those who are in-work and claiming benefits, so that once they have overcome their barriers and got into work, in time they can reduce their dependency or come off benefits altogether." He said that benefits were not a route out of child poverty but hundreds of thousands of children could be lifted out of child poverty if one of their parents were to work at least a 35-hour week at the national minimum wage.
He also argued that a proposed £26,000-a-year benefits cap would not lead to a rise in homelessness or child poverty. "The reality is that with £26,000 a year, it's very difficult to believe that families will be plunged into poverty - children or adults," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "Capping at average earnings of £35,000 before tax and £26,000 after, actually means that we are going to work with families make sure that they will find a way out." but added there would need to be "discretionary measures". Duncan Smith led the governments legislation in the House of Commons in January 2013 to cap most benefit increases at 1%, a real terms cut.
On 1 April 2013, Duncan Smith said he could live on £53 per week as Work and Pensions Secretary, after a benefits claimant told the BBC he had £53 per week after housing costs.
In September 2013, Duncan Smith's department cancelled a week of "celebrations" to mark the impact of enhanced benefit sanctions. Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) commented: "It is distasteful in the extreme and grossly offensive that the DWP would even consider talking about celebrating cutting people's benefits." In the same month, Duncan Smith's department was subject to an "excoriating" National Audit Office report. The department he runs was accused of having "weak management, ineffective control and poor governance; a fortress mentality, a "good news" reporting culture, a lack of transparency, inadequate financial control, and ineffective oversight" as well as wasting 34 million pounds on inadequate computer systems.
The Department for Work and Pensions had said that 1 million people would be placed on the new Universal Credit benefits system by April 2014, yet by October 2014 only 15,000 were assigned to UC. Duncan Smith said that a final delivery date would not be set for this, declaring "Arbitrary dates and deadlines are the enemy of secure delivery." In 2014, it was reported that his department was employing debt collectors to retrieve overpaid benefits, the overpayment purely down to calculation mistakes by HMRC.
In June 2011, Duncan Smith announced that earlier welfare-to-work programs would be replaced with a single Work Programme, which included incentives for private sector service providers to help the unemployed find long term employment. Further developments included the requirement for some long term recipients of Job Seekers Allowance to undertake unpaid full-time work placements with private companies.
After the "workfare" element of this programmed was successfully challenged in the courts, Duncan Smith sought to re-establish the legality of the scheme through emergency and retrospective legislation. Legal experts were said to be "outraged" that the bill applied retrospectively, breaking a key standard of British law. In 2014, the High Court ruled that the retrospective nature of the legislation interfered with the "right to a fair trial" under Article Six of the European Convention on Human Rights.
In April 2013, Duncan Smith called for wealthier people to voluntarily return winter fuel payments, given to all pensioners regardless of wealth, to help reduce the strain on public finances. This suggestion prompted media comment, with some wealthier pensioners stating they had already tried to return their payments, for this same reason, but had this offer refused by the government because there was no mechanism in place to receive returned payments.
In July 2013, Duncan Smith was found by Andrew Dilnot, then Head of the UK Statistics Authority, to have broken their Code of Practice for Official Statistics for his and the DWP's use of figures in support of government policies. Dilnot also stated that, following an earlier complaint about the handling of statistics by Duncan Smith's department, he had previously been told, "that senior DWP officials had reiterated to their staff the seriousness of their obligations under the Code of Practice and that departmental procedures would be reviewed".
Duncan Smith's defence of his department was that "You cannot absolutely prove those two things are connected - you cannot disprove what I said. I believe this to be right." This led Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and former chief economist at the Cabinet Office, to accuse the Conservative Party of going beyond spin and the normal political practice of cherry picking of figures to the act of actually "making things up" with respect to the impact of government policy on employment and other matters.
On World Food Day in October 2013, The Trussell Trust, which provides foodbanks in the UK, called for an inquiry to investigate the tripling in numbers of people using their food banks in the past year and the rise in UK hunger and food poverty which they described as reaching "scandalous levels".Oxfam commented: "These figures lay bare the shocking scale of destitution, hardship and hunger in the UK. It is completely unacceptable that in the seventh wealthiest nation on the planet, the number of people turning to foodbanks has tripled." According to the BBC, the number of people given three days food by the Trussell Trust increased from 40,000 in 2009-10 to 913,000 by 2013-14. A letter signed by 27 bishops earlier in 2014 blamed "cutbacks and failures in the benefits system" for driving people to food banks.
In September 2013, leaked documents showed that Duncan Smith was looking at "how to make it harder for sick and disabled people to claim benefits". Duncan Smith was advised that it would be illegal to introduce secondary legislation, which does not require parliament's approval, in order to give job centre staff more powers to make those who were claiming Employment and Support Allowance undertake more tests to prove that they were making a serious effort to come off benefits and find a job. The powers being discussed also included "forcing sick and disabled people to take up offers of work." DWP staff would also have the power to strip claimants with serious, but time-limited health conditions, of benefits if they refuse the offer of work.
Duncan Smith's department had previously announced on the 2012 United Nations' International Day of Persons with Disabilities forced work for disabled people who received welfare benefits, in order to "Improve disabled people's chances of getting work by mandatory employment".The Guardian noted that from this United Nations appointed day onwards, people with disabilities and illnesses ranging from cancer to paralysis to mental health may be forced by the UK government to work for free or else they could risk being stripped of up to 70% of their welfare benefits.
In June 2015, a judge ruled that there had been a "breach of duty on the part of the secretary of state to act without unreasonable delay in determination of the claimant's claims for PIP," the replacement for Disability Living Allowance. One of the claimants, an ME sufferer with visual impairment was twice required to travel to attend an assessment, a request which the judge described as irrational.
On 3 July 2015, a group of over "70 leading Catholics" wrote to Duncan Smith asking him to rewrite his policies to make them more in line with Catholic and Christian values. The writers stated that whilst they believed he wanted to improve lives, they believed his policies were having the opposite effect and they asked him to rethink and abandon further damaging cuts.
In August 2015, he was criticised after the DWP admitted publishing fake testimonies of claimants enjoying their benefits cuts. Later the same month, publication of statistics showed 2,380 people died in a 3-year period shortly after a work capability assessment declared them fit for work leading Jeremy Corbyn to call for Duncan Smith's resignation. At his party's conference in October 2015, Duncan Smith said in a speech about the sick and disabled "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," and criticised the current system which he said "makes doctors ask a simplistic question: are you too sick to work at all? If the answer is yes, they're signed off work - perhaps for ever."
In the September 2012 Cabinet reshuffle, Duncan Smith was offered the job at the Ministry of Justice replacing Kenneth Clarke, but declined, and remained in his post at the DWP. Duncan Smith dismissed allegations in Matthew d'Ancona's book, In It Together, that the Chancellor George Osborne had referred to him as "not clever enough", which were also denied by Osborne. Duncan Smith said that similar claims had been made of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher.
In February 2016, Duncan Smith announced he would be campaigning to leave the EU alongside other Conservative MPs in the 2016 EU membership referendum, stating that staying in the EU "leaves the door open" to the UK enduring terrorist attacks.
In October 2019, Duncan Smith described the EU as a "dictatorial organisation".
On 18 March 2016, Duncan Smith unexpectedly resigned from Cameron's cabinet. He stated that he was unable to accept the government's planned cuts to disability benefits. He broadened this position, in a following interview on The Andrew Marr Show, launching an attack on the "government's austerity programme for balancing the books on the backs of the poor and vulnerable", describing this as divisive and "deeply unfair", and adding: "It is in danger of drifting in a direction that divides society rather than unites it." Duncan Smith had opposed Cameron over the EU referendum but sources close to Duncan Smith said his resignation was not about Europe.Nadine Dorries MP tweeted that Duncan Smith had sought her out and "personally begged" her to vote for the planned cuts.
Iain Duncan Smith has become significantly involved in issues of family and social breakdown. He has stated his support for early interventions to reduce and prevent social breakdown.
During his leadership campaign in 2001, he changed his stance on the now-repealed Section 28 from opposing repeal to supporting it. In 2003, Duncan Smith's decision to compromise on repeal of Section 28 was described as "illogical" and "messy" by other Conservative MPs.
In December 2010, Duncan Smith studied a state-sponsored relationship education programme in Norway, under which couples were forced to "think again" and confront the reality of divorce before formally separating. The policy has been credited with reversing Norway's trend for rising divorce rates and halting the decline of marriage in the country over the past 15 years. Duncan Smith said he was keen to explore ways in which similar approaches could be encouraged in Britain. Officials pointed out that such a programme would be expensive but that an approach could reduce the long-term cost of family breakdown, which has been estimated at up to £100 billion. Duncan Smith said couples in Norway were able to "work through what is going to happen with their children", which has "a very big effect on their thinking". "Many of them think again about what they are going to embark on once they really understand the consequences of their actions subsequently," he said.
Duncan Smith said in February 2011 that it was "absurd and damaging" for ministers not to extol the benefits of marriage for fear of stigmatising those who choose not to marry. Duncan Smith said: "We do a disservice to society if we ignore the evidence which shows that stable families tend to be associated with better outcomes for children. There are few more powerful tools for promoting stability than the institution of marriage." He added that "The financial costs of family breakdown are incredibly high. But what is most painful to see is the human cost - the wasted potential, the anti-social behaviour, and the low self-esteem."
Duncan Smith has said that tighter immigration controls are vital if Britain is to avoid "losing another generation to dependency and hopelessness". In a speech delivered in Spain he said that only immigrants with "something to offer" should be allowed into the country and that too often foreign workers purporting to be skilled take low-skilled jobs that could be occupied by British school leavers. According to The Daily Telegraph's analysis, the speech contained a warning to David Cameron "that a 'slack' attitude to immigration will result in the Coalition repeating the mistakes made under Labour, when the vast majority of new jobs generated before the recession were taken by immigrants". Duncan Smith believes that some companies are using immigration as "an excuse to import labour to take up posts which could be filled by people already in Britain". He says Britain needs an immigration system that gives the unemployed "a level playing field". "If we do not get this right then we risk leaving more British citizens out of work, and the most vulnerable group who will be the most affected are young people," he said.
Duncan Smith has called for cuts to Universal Credit to be reversed. Duncan Smith said, "Rolling out a new system, and pulling the money out of it the whole time, is very difficult to do it. It counters the whole purpose of what the welfare reforms are about."
On 3 November 2016 and in response to the decision of the High Court in R (Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on whether the UK government was entitled to notify an intention to leave the European Union under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union without a vote in Parliament, Duncan Smith stated that "it's not the position of the courts to tell parliament or the Government how that process should work. It never has been. Their job is to interpret what comes out of parliament, not to tell parliament how it goes about its functions."
Duncan Smith married Elizabeth "Betsy" Fremantle, daughter of the 5th Baron Cottesloe, in 1982. The couple have four children, and live in a country house belonging to his father-in-law's estate in Swanbourne, Buckinghamshire.
Duncan Smith was knighted in the 2020 New Year Honours, for political and public service. The honour sparked criticism, with more than 237,000 people signing an online petition, set up by Dr Mona Kamal Ahmed, an NHS psychiatrist, demanding that it be rescinded. The petition described Duncan Smith as the man "responsible for some of the cruellest, most extreme welfare reforms this country has ever seen".
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
| Member of Parliament
|New constituency|| Member of Parliament
for Chingford and Woodford Green
| Shadow Secretary of State for Social Security
| Shadow Secretary of State for Defence
| Leader of the Opposition
| Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
|Party political offices|
| Leader of the Conservative Party