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The benefits cap goes nationwide today – another reminder that welfare will feature heavily in 2015

By Peter Hoskin
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Rewarding work infographic 14 july 2013

And the word of the day is “cap”, as in “benefits cap”. You might have heard it during Iain Duncan Smith’s growling appearance on the Today Programme earlier, or read it in Grant Shapps’ article for the Daily Telegraph. For today’s the day when the Government extends what is effectively a £26,000-a-year cap on the out-of-work benefits that can be claimed by a single household across the whole country. So far, it’s only applied in four London boroughs.

To mark the occasion, CCHQ has released the infographic at the top of this page. Actually, I say “infographic”, but it’s a more a digital raspberry blown in Labour’s collective face. As we know, and as per the polling that’s available, the Tories think they’re on to a vote-winner with this cap. Hence Shapps’ confidence, in that Telegraph article, that “Labour are miles behind” on welfare. Although, as I’ve said before, he and his colleagues shouldn’t allow that confidence to spill over into callous rhetoric – there’s more to Iain Duncan Smith’s reforms than lazy lines about “scroungers” and “shirkers” admit.

It’s all a reminder of how significant the subject of welfare promises to be during the next election campaign. To my mind, there are three main areas of contention between the parties. Briefly:
  • Benefit cuts in general … of which the benefits cap is a part. Here the argument is both general: what should the overall envelope for welfare spending be after the election? And specific: should benefit x, y or z be cut by so much, or at all?
  • Universality. Here, as I suggested in this post, the two main parties are currently positioned awkwardly against each other. The Tories are defending pensioner perks for all, while cutting child benefit on the grounds that “it is very difficult to justify continuing to pay for the child benefit of the wealthiest 15 per cent of families in society”. Whereas Labour want to restrict pensioner perks, and tend to attack the child benefit cuts. Only the Lib Dems have a consistent position between the two.
  • The progress made by back-to-work programmes. How many people has the Government’s Work Programme returned to the labour market? And at what cost? We saw the start of this argument last November, but it’s likely to flare up again, alongside questions about Universal Credit and its elongated delivery.  

Much of this coming battle may be unedifying, but one thing that can be said for it is: it will more specific than that waged in 2010. Back then, deficit reduction was spoken of mostly in abstraction. Next time, there’ll be actual cuts and counter-cuts to chew over.


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