The Honours System is Morally Broken

“The greatest heroes are unsung and the honours system we currently have is another farcical seam in an imperial tapestry.”

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph: 06/01/2020 Available:  [Accessed: 2020, Jan 07] 

We are in the dawn of a new decade and that would, under normal circumstances, create in me feelings of hope and yet it was overshadowed by the feeling that the last decade was more like a lost decade. It was a decade that will forever haunt me because of the wounds inflicted upon men, women and children as a direct result of the Welfare Reform Act 2012. And to see the dying embers of this decade snuffed out by the knighthood of its chief architect, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, left me lost for words.

The Welfare Reform Act is a piece of legislation that will last long in living memory. It took effect on Monday 1 April 2013 and tightened the sanctions regime for people who failed to comply with their new claimant commitment. It included the under-occupancy penalty – or bedroom tax – which deducted sums of money from anyone with a spare bedroom.  Then there was the most reprehensible reform to welfare since the birth of social security, Universal Credit. That is just a small introduction.

Ironically, the legislation was conceived in Scotland. Back in 2002 my friend, the late great socialist Bob Holman, invited the then Tory leader, Iain Duncan Smith, to visit Easterhouse in Glasgow. So apparently moved was he by what he saw in those tenement blocks that Duncan Smith established the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), which became the conceptual cradle for many a Conservative policy he later embedded in legislation in his role as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

My wife informed me that a petition had been uploaded calling for the revocation of the knighthood and was sitting at less than 6,000 signatories. I told her it would be up to over 100,000 in less than a day – the number needed to secure a House of Commons debate. Two days on and it hit 200,000. One signatory, Lynne Saunders, wrote: “This man should be prosecuted for murder, not knighted.”

I would hope there is a debate and that it includes the fact that foodbank use in Scotland rocketed by 398% in the year after the Act became law or the story of the mum I met in Paisley, who gave up breastfeeding her six week old because she was too malnourished following an administrative error that withheld a benefit payment.

The truth is, the greatest heroes are unsung and the honours system we currently have is just another farcical seam in an imperial tapestry that is becoming increasingly redundant in the eyes of a growing number in Scotland. My friend Bob, who sadly passed away in June 2016, shared my view on the honours system. He turned down an MBE in 2012 due to his belief that the system promotes differences in status. Now that, I believe, is worthy of honour.