Nick Clegg has accused the Tories of acting in a “deceitful” way over their plans for £12bn in welfare cuts, as he defended the decision of his Liberal Democrat colleague Danny Alexander to expose previous Conservative proposals prepared in 2012 to cut child benefit and tax credits.
The deputy prime minister said he was angry and frustrated at the Tory tactics after George Osborne had said the three-year-old document was commissioned by Alexander, a claim that was also denied by Lib Dem sources.
Clegg said he had vetoed the cuts in 2012 but Alexander claimed the cuts could be resurrected in the next parliament.
Clegg added: “If the Conservatives are now denying that is what they are planning, fine. What are they going to do instead?
“You simply cannot pull the wool over the eyes of the British people and say you are going to ask the working-age poor to pick up the tab for the mistakes of the bankers, not ask anything from the wealthiest in society, and then refuse to answer basic questions about who will pay the price, whose benefits will be cut, which vulnerable families will suffer in Britain.”
Earlier, Osborne, speaking on radio station BBC London, said: “This is a three-year-old document of policy options that was commissioned by the chief secretary [Alexander] himself.
“We haven’t put into practice any of these options, we don’t support them. We didn’t support them then and we don’t support them in the future.”
Lib Dem sources said the document was requested by the prime minister following a meeting in April 2012. The document was sent by the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, to the quad– the four most senior cabinet ministers, including Clegg and Alexander.
Privately, Lib Dems believe Osborne may be planning to incorporate child benefit into universal credit and will then cut its value and limit who can receive it.
Osborne has said he needs £12bn of welfare cuts by 2017-18, but he will have to compromise if the Tories seek another coalition with the Lib Dems.
Ed Miliband also called on David Cameron to come clean, saying if the Tories got in on 7 May then the devastation of family finances would start on 8 May.
The Labour leader, who hopes for a late surge to Labour amid fears of Tory cuts to tax credits, said: “Today we’ve learned that child benefit and tax credits are on the ballot paper next week. The Tories have drawn up plans to take thousands of pounds away from millions of families.”
The row started after Alexander took the extraordinary step of lifting the lid on Tory plans for £8bn of welfare reductions, including slashing child benefit and child tax credits. For the first time, the key coalition minister spelled out the origins of the proposals and most of their details.
Clegg said he strongly supported Alexander’s action.
He told LBC: “I share Danny’s intense frustration verging on anger that the Conservatives say it is OK a week before an election to say they are going to take the equivalent of £1,500 off 8 million of the most vulnerable families in this country and they can’t even be bothered to spell out to the families – with folk who are disabled, with children, those who have fallen on hard times – they can’t even be bothered to spell out exactly what their plans involve.”
The proposed Tory cuts highlighted by Alexander included:
- Limiting support to two children in child benefit and child tax credits – so cutting up to £3,500 from a family with three children.
- Removing the higher rate child benefit from the first child – an average annual cut of more than £360 for every family with children.
- Means-testing child benefit – cutting £1,750 for a two-child, middle-income family.
- Removing child benefit from 16- to 19-year-olds – a cut of more than £1,000 for parents of a single child.
Conservative cabinet members have thus far tried to avoid setting out their plans.
“They are doing very badly in the polls and they are not getting any attention in the election campaign.”
Asked if the Tories did plan to limit child benefit, Truss refused to give a direct answer.
This article was written by Nicholas Watt Chief politcal correspondent and Patrick Wintour Political editor, for theguardian.com on Thursday 30th April 2015 20.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010