I have pledged to myself to not comment on any policy-based issue until the Queen’s Speech and Budget outlines the coalition government’s clear policy programme for the coming year. This is only fair.
I have thus adopted the general position of “hmm” over the next few weeks, though am obviously keeping track of policy issues being discussed and debated in the first weeks of the coalition government.
To this end, below are extracts from two articles (both from the Times) regarding potential cuts in the broad church that is welfare benefits. I am merely noting these, not passing comment (as yet).
The Treasury has found ways of implementing the Conservative election pledge to make £6 billion worth of efficiency savings in the coming year, The Times has learnt. As well as drawing up draconian options for cutting welfare bills, officials have been preparing to make a reality of George Osborne’s plan to make savings over the next ten months…
The radical options have been drawn up by mandarins for the next government, whatever its colour. They could mean welfare payments for the disabled, the jobless and children could be cut by up to £30 billion.
Options drawn up by the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions in the past few weeks include means-testing child benefit, cutting disability and housing benefits and freezing all payments in cash terms. Freezing benefits for one year would save £4 billion while freezing them for a whole parliament would save £24 billion in the fifth year alone…
Spending on social security benefits has shot up from £93 billion in 1997-98 to nearly £170 billion this year because of a growing number of elderly people, increased payments to lone parents and working families, and rising unemployment. Total welfare payments, including tax credits of £29 billion, are nearer £200 billion.
Billions could be saved by means-testing child benefit, which goes to 7.5 million families at a cost of more than £11.7 billion. Officials are also looking at cuts to disability living allowance, which costs £11.3 billion, as well as setting housing benefit, which costs more than £20 billion, at a much lower level.
Benefit cuts for children, the disabled and the homeless are to form the first battleground for the coalition in its struggle to find more than £60 billion in public spending reductions.
The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have both agreed to withdraw hundreds of pounds a year from middle-income families under plans to cut child tax credits and the Child Trust Fund. But the Lib Dems are resisting Tory plans to go farther. Conservatives want to cut benefit bills for the long-term sick by getting more into work with stricter medical tests.
The Lib Dems are also opposed to options drawn up by Treasury officials to means-test or tax child benefit for more affluent families, to means-test or tax disability and carers allowances, and to reduce housing benefit, which could raise more than £10 billion.