One bit of very good news on welfare front – the Liberal Democrats have held firm and told George Osborne where to shove his ridiculous plan to take Housing Benefit away from under 25s, according to yesterday’s Observer. Nor is he getting to freeze benefits as he would have liked.
The piece has a great quote from Greg Mulholland, Liberal Democrat MP for Leeds North West who says:
The Lib Dems would not stand for cutting housing benefits for under 25-year-olds which would not only be unjust and unfair but would have unacceptable consequences for many young people. Neither do we think a freeze in working-age benefits is acceptable.
He went on to say a phrase which made me cringe a little “having spent the last year making sure that benefits are directed to those who really need them most”. Actually, we have taken them away from people who really do need them. Ok, it’s been as bad as it would have been had the Tories had free rein, but I really wish we wouldn’t say self-justifiying things like that because they aren’t true and they don’t wash.
Whenever George Osborne is due to get up on his feet, there are understandable nerves throughout the Party. There’s inevitably going to be stuff in the Autumn Statement that we as a party don’t like. The Social Liberal Forum has issued a statement today making it clear what it thinks – no more welfare cuts, and no agreement on spending plans after the next election. I can’t see much to disagree with in what they say.
The Social Liberal Forum would not support a Government that takes regressive spending decisions, on the welfare budget in particular, that will go beyond the term of this Parliament. There is no basis for taking such decisions in the policy of the Liberal Democrats, nor in the Coalition Agreement. With living standards already squeezed and with the considerable uncertainty associated with the introduction of the Universal Credit – a measure that needs to succeed and will inevitably have consequences that will require adjustment – it would be irresponsible for further such steps to be taken.
It is therefore up to the Government to produce an overall spending package that is functional, that will not further hold the economy back, and that is fair. Senior Liberal Democrats have always clearly stated that addressing a widening deficit through further spending cuts, not least those that harm the spending power of the poorest, would lead to an unacceptable downward spiral of low growth and higher deficits. If the state of the economy leaves the Coalition with a choice between investing in future growth by easing the deficit reduction programme and cutting support to the most vulnerable people in society, it can only choose the former.
We can’t put our name towards any further benefit cuts. We’ve already gone too far in that direction. Nor can there be any slacking in the raising of the tax threshold. At the other end, I want to see more being done on taxing the wealthiest. A mansion tax would be great, but I’d take anything that actually works that means that the well off feel a bit of the pinch. I say that as someone who had to stop claiming Child Benefit today. I am not whinging. It was only fair that I do so. It’s a bit of a shame that the only time that my husband has been a higher rate tax payer in his entire working life coincides with the time Child Benefit is being cut, especially as he’s had just 6 years’ notice that he’ll have to wait an extra year before he gets his State Pension. But, the point is, we can deal with it. We are not going to suffer in any sense and it’s only right that we should do our bit. There are plenty wealthier than us who could do with digging a bit deeper, too.
Mind you, a sure fire way of making sure the country was rolling in money would be a tax on journalists’ whinges about how Leveson is the end of a free press and how they’re all being suppressed like it’s North Korea… I have never heard such a load of self-serving, petulant nonsense in my whole life.