Cameron calls for changes to ‘welfare gap’
In a controversial speech on welfare, Prime Minister David Cameron is to suggest moves that restrict or cut benefits for the under-25s, large families and the unemployed. He will assert that the current system is causing deep social divisions and will call for a wider debate on the best ways to get people back into work.
Many of his ideas are for the next Conservative manifesto and will not become Coalition Government policy. They are thought to be to reassure angry Tory backbenchers who think the party’s values are being ‘watered down’ by the Liberal Democrats, who would oppose such drastic changes to the welfare system.
Cameron will propose removing housing benefits for under-25s who could move in with their parents, setting a time limit on jobseekers’ allowance and suggesting a restriction on benefits for claimants with three or more children.
This would change the current system, which he says encourages people to have children but not to work, into one where welfare acts as a safety net for those who have no independent means of support, he will say.
Speaking in Kent, Cameron will say: “We have, in some ways, created a welfare gap in this country – between those living long-term in the welfare system and those outside it. Those within it grow up with a series of expectations – you can have a home of your own, the state will support you whatever decisions you make, you will always be able to take out no matter what you put in.
“This has sent out some incredibly damaging signals. That it pays not to work. That you are owed something for nothing. It gave us millions of working-age people sitting at home on benefits even before the recession hit. It created a culture of entitlement. And it has led to huge resentment amongst those who pay into the system, because they feel that what they’re having to work hard for, others are getting without having to put in the effort.
“We have been encouraging working-age people to have children and not work, when we should be enabling working-age people to work and have children. So it's time we asked some serious questions about the signals we send out through the benefits system.”
He acknowledges that this is a sensitive issue, but will add: “It is right to ask whether those in the welfare system should not be faced with the same kinds of decisions that working people have to wrestle with when they have a child.”
Other possible suggestions include tightening the definition of homelessness, shifting to regionally set benefits and measures to tighten requirements to actively seek work before receiving jobseeker’s allowance.
Employment minister Chris Grayling told ITV’s Daybreak: “You have to start with some basic principles. What we have been saying is we have to have a welfare state which is not a place in which you live but which is a ladder up which you climb. All too often over the course of the last decades as our current welfare state has built up, it has become a place in which people live.”
But shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne condemned the suggestions, saying: “This is a hazy and half-baked plan when we need a serious back-to-work programme for young families.
“Many young families with their first foot on the career ladder will be knocked off if help with their rent is taken away. And young families that want to work won't be able to move where the jobs are.”
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