The Tories plan to start 2013 by slashing every benefit they can lay their hands on.
From unemployment benefit to in-work tax credits, they are going to cut welfare payments even as prices rocket.
The first debate of the year in parliament will be dedicated to putting through their latest vicious attack.
Most benefits are currently linked to price rises through inflation—but the Tories are putting a stop to that. Instead of going up by 5 percent a year, they will be held down to just 1 percent.
Meanwhile the cost of food and fuel continues to soar, forcing the poorest to choose between heating and eating. This vote alone will take £2 billion from benefits—but that’s just the beginning of the Tory plot.
David Cameron used his new year message to announce his intentions, saying he wouldn’t stop welfare “reforms” just because people say they are “cruel”.
This year he is preparing for the Tories’ biggest overhaul of the benefits system yet, in plans known as universal credit.
Jobseekers’ allowance, housing benefits, tax credits and more are to be replaced by this new scheme—and it will be capped at £500 a week per household.
The Department for Work and Pensions insists this is somehow not a cut. But it has also promised it will “save” an extra £10 billion from the benefits bill. It puts many people at risk of losing their homes.
A new “bedroom tax” will penalise people with “too many” bedrooms in social housing on housing benefit. People with a spare room, even a tiny one, could lose up to £80 from their housing benefit.
The Tories are hoping that this will force people to move. Some 95,000 are expected to, according to the National Housing Federation. But many will have nowhere to go.
Meanwhile housing benefit will no longer increase at the same pace as rents—at a time when evictions are already soaring. The Chartered Institute of Housing says the 400,000 poorest families will be hit.
And an extra £1 billion will come from disabled people being moved from the Disability Living Allowance to a new “Personal Independence Payment”.
Some 280,000 people who currently receive the highest payments will have it slashed. That will mean 90,000 fewer motability vehicles by 2016, trapping disabled people in their homes.
The Tories aren’t just robbing the money, but meddling with how it’s claimed and spent. Domestic violence charities have warned that lumping benefits together in a single payment to each household will trap women in abusive relationships, putting their partners in control of their finances.
The application process will move entirely online. Already a whopping £12 billion of benefits goes unclaimed—far more than the amount lost to benefit fraud. Moving services online will see this increase.
And minister Iain Duncan Smith has refused to rule out withdrawing housing benefit from everyone under the age of 25.
Tory MP Alec Shelbrooke even put forward a bill calling for a “welfare cash card” which would ban “the purchase of luxury goods such as cigarettes, alcohol, Sky television and gambling”.
The only silver lining to this enormous attack is that they may struggle to pull it off. The Tories had hoped to roll out universal credit this April. Instead it will be trialled in four London boroughs in the hope of going national later in the year.
The Tories are building up to the key battle in their war on benefit claimants—but it’s not too late to stop them.
Stop cuts? Perhaps, says Labour
Three Labour council leaders this week warned that Tory cuts could lead to “social unrest” and “the break-up of civil society”. The Newcastle, Liverpool and Sheffield council leaders say they fear running out of money for essential services within five years.
It comes after Labour leader Ed Miliband made the decision to oppose some of the Tory cuts—sort of.
After more than two years of the Tory assault, “senior figures close to” Miliband are starting to make noises about benefit cuts. But they have not yet confirmed that Labour will vote against the cuts in parliament next week.
The most Miliband has been willing to say publicly is that “six out of ten people hit by these cuts are people who get up every morning and go to work”.
That’s true. But he has refused to extend his support to unemployed people, telling them they “can work and try to avoid responsibility”. Anyone looking to Labour to stop the cuts will be disappointed.