Monday, October 08, 2012

Nick: Just say no to the Tories on more welfare cuts

My stomach is churning already and the Tory Conference has barely started. It makes me feel sick to my core to hear the way that the Prime Minister of this country is scapegoating benefit claimants. The focus of the attack at the moment, according to the Daily Fail, is those out of work people who have large families and under 25s who claim housing benefit.

After all the furore over abortion this weekend, we have to remember that Work and Pensions secretary voted in favour of a reduction of the time limit for terminations to 12 weeks. I'm fairly sure if he could have voted to outlaw them altogether, he would. What, exactly, is he suggesting a woman on benefits who find themselves expecting another child should do? The best of contraception fails sometimes.

And as for the idea that Housing Benefit should be removed from the under 25s - many don't have families to support them, and they may have children themselves. All this will do would be to shift the cost on to dealing with homeless young people. And if you are homeless, you have even less chance of getting a job than if you have a permanent address. 

"Tories war on workshy" screams the headline in the Daily Fail today. I suggest that if you are tempted by the line that we are allowing these people to scrounge off us and live lives of luxury that you do three things before you open your gob:

1. Actually try and live on the amounts of benefits that you get. For a whole year. All the amounts you can get are here. £70 in Job Seekers' Allowance and Housing Benefit won't help you if your cooker breaks down. How do you feed your family and meet the costs of looking for jobs.

2. Look at the jobs that are available in your area and compare it to the number of people who are unemployed. And look at the type of jobs, too. There's no point in suggesting that a single parent takes any job that requires any work outside business hours. They just will not be able to get childcare. 

3. Imagine you are an employer, and you have jobs going, who are you going to pick? Someone with a long  employment record who's just been made redundant, or someone who hasn't worked in their entire life? Are you really going to take a chance on someone with no track record? See some of the barriers that these people face?

This is not the time to be putting the squeeze on people who are already poor. On people who have already been failed by the education system and who have been left languishing, trapped on benefits, for years. One way to guarantee that these people have opportunities for employment is for the state to actually to give them jobs and pay them a decent wage so they can get an employment record . That's way too radical for the current climate, though.

What troubles me is that there are many reports in today's press that the Liberal Democrats have agreed to further welfare cuts and there are no Liberal Democrats denying this. Let's be clear. The Tories' proposals on curbing benefits for large families and taking housing benefit for the under 25s are batshit crazy and should not be entertained by reasonable people for one instant.

Instead, we should be looking at seriously taxing the wealthy. That may not bring in an extra £10 billion, but it would be a start. Then we need to take bus passes and Winter Fuel Allowance off people like us who don't need them. 

The road the Tories suggest is cruel, inhumane and will lead to hungry children and homeless young people - which will cost society more in much more than financial terms in the long run. The very fact that this goes down with Daily Mail readers is something that Liberal Democrats should run from.

Nick has said that there will be no further cuts to the top rate of tax in this Parliament. He has also said. I was encouraged in June by reports that he was stopping the Tories' future plans for welfare cuts. I am now more concerned by reports like this in today's Guardian that suggest a deal has been done. However, the BBC reminds us that Nick told conference that these were "wild suggestions" just 2 weeks ago. 

I am hoping that the reason that the Tories are creating such a scapegoating stink at their conference is because they don't have our agreement and they are trying to build up public support for such moves. Cameron has been pandering to his right wing all Summer and they'll love this kind of stuff. It's all very unsavoury, though. It is important to remind ourselves that these Tory ideas are not new. They'd have brought them in, along with a few more even nastier things, in the last Welfare Reform Bill. Many Liberal Democrats thought that Act was a giant step too far. 

There is, frankly, no point in spending £2.5 billion on a pupil premium for disadvantaged kids if they are not going to be able to learn because they are hungry, or because they're under stress because their 24 year old mother has been evicted because she can't get housing benefit. I am sure that our Liberal Democrat ministers get that point entirely. I am sure that there are some interesting discussions being had in Government at the moment but I expect our lot to stand firm against these crazy, unfair proposals. 

What we can do as Liberal Democrat members is make our views on this clear. And I'm going to suggest that we fill newly re-elected President Tim Farron's inbox again. It's, or tweet him on @timfarron. I am sure he will pass on the general gist of messages he receives in his inimitable style. 

Having spent a week at a Conference that was a completely different world than the one written about in the press, I'm not going to assume that our lot have agreed to these welfare cuts just because it's written in the press. A senior government insider told me a few weeks ago that they never believe anything written in the newspapers because they no so much of it to be inaccurate. 

Some categorical assurance on welfare cuts from one of our ministers would not be unwelcome, though. Today wouldn't be too soon. 

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