George Osborne is to press ahead with £12bn of welfare cuts despite disquiet among some of his colleagues about the scale of the proposed reductions and anti-austerity protests in a number of UK cities.
The chancellor wrote a joint article with Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, in the Sunday Times, saying they are still intending to make the deep cuts.
There have been reports in recent weeks that the cuts could be delayed or scaled back over fears the reductions would be too damaging, coming on top of the £21bn of reductions in the last parliament.
“This government was elected with a mandate to implement further savings from the £220bn welfare budget,” they said. “For a start, we will reduce the benefit cap, and have made clear that we believe we need to make significant savings from other working-age benefits.
“We will set out in detail all the steps we will take to bring about savings totalling £12bn a year in next month’s budget and at the spending review in the autumn.
“It took many years for welfare spending to spiral so far out of control, and it’s a project of a decade or more to return the system to sanity. Reforming the damaging culture of welfare dependency and ensuring that work pays has been central to our mission to make Britain fit for the future.”
During the election campaign, Osborne and David Cameron repeatedly refused to outline exactly how they would reach the £12bn figure, apart from saying they would reduce the benefit cap, freeze most working-age benefits for two years and take away housing benefit for under-25s. Cameron has ruled out touching benefits for the elderly and child benefit, meaning the bulk of the savings will have to come from other working-age welfare payments. The most likely cuts are restrictions on child tax credits and housing benefit.
Details of the cuts have now been agreed between Osborne and Duncan Smith, who is said to have been concerned to make sure the changes are designed to encourage people into work and not just “salami slicing” the budget.
The two cabinet ministers also challenged Labour to back their plans. “Even after the comprehensive rejection of their position by the British people in last month’s general election, Labour seems determined to go on as before. But even now, we appeal to their leadership candidates to engage constructively with us and to support the further savings we must make to make welfare fairer and more affordable, while protecting pensioners and the vulnerable,” he said.
Andy Burnham, one of the Labour leadership contenders, has said he believes welfare cuts should be somewhere between £12bn and zero, suggesting he could back some further reductions. Yvette Cooper, another of the leading candidates, has said limiting welfare is the right thing to do in principle but she has highlighted potential problems with the cap in London.
The Osborne and Duncan Smith article was published the day after between 70,000 and 150,000 people marched against austerity at rallies in London and other cities. Those among the crowd in Westminster included Green MP Caroline Lucas, comedian and actor Russell Brand, singer Charlotte Church and Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness.
At the End Austerity Now event in Parliament Square, Lucas said: “We’re here to say austerity isn’t working. We’re here to say that it wasn’t people on jobseeker’s allowance that brought down the banks.”
This article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Sunday 21st June 2015 10.46 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010