Tory welfare plans are anathema to Liberal Democrats. We should not miss any opportunity to condemn them

I suspect most Liberal Democrats will have what we in Scotland call “the dry boak”when they watched Iain Duncan Smith and George Osborne outlining plans to impose even more cuts on those people who can least afford to take the hit. A two year freeze for those who have least, including those who are working. Restricting benefits for young people. The benefits cap was a bad idea in the first place, but reducing it further is really wrong. But by far the most egregious of the measures announced yesterday was Iain Duncan Smith’s plan to introduce benefit cards instead of cash to bank accounts. Talk about illiberal. Talk about creating stigma.

What is very clear is that all these things would be being done now if the Liberal Democrats were not there to stop them. It’s a horrible glimpse into single party Tory rule. We can’t subject people to that.

I would have liked to see more Liberal Democrats jump on these pronouncements. All we’ve had so far is a “Lib Dem source” telling ITV:

The Liberal Democrats have consistently blocked Conservative attempts to freeze benefits for the working age poor, just as they have blocked our attempts to cut benefits for the wealthiest pensioners.

It speaks volumes about the priorities of the Conservative Party that they see benefit cuts for the working age poor as a crowd-pleasing punch.

The only attributable quote I can find so far is from Lord Roger Roberts on Facebook, reproduced here with his permission:

The news that Iain Duncan-Smith is to introduce Benefit Cards instead of Cash Payments is like the Azure card system for Asylum Seekers – those looking for jobs should not be treated in a way that appears designed to stigmatise them. Some folk do spend their money in unhelpful ways – Expenses scandals are not unknown ! But a card restricts for example travel costs to go job hunting, ability to purchase in discount stores etc. They must think again!

To imply that benefit claimants can’t be trusted to spend their own money wisely is awful in the first place. However, surely if addiction is an issue, then providing proper medical and community support to people who are suffering is a much more effective way of tackling it?

This is such a degrading, dehumanising, bad idea that I would have liked to see senior party figures rush to condemn it. I hope that Nick Cegg will on Call Clegg this week.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • You’ve already voted for the benefit cap and for cuts to all working age benefits. There are presentational difficulties in condemning policies you’ve voted for.

  • Perhaps NC will take the opportunity at Conference to pledge that the Party will not support these measures should it be in coalition with the Tories after May!

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 30th Sep '14 - 1:05pm

    We voted (wrongly in my view) for a benefits cap at a higher level than the Tories propose. We’ve stopped them stopping Housing Benefit for under 25s and limiting child benefit to two children. We secured a small rise in working age benefits when Tories wanted to freeze them.

  • jedibeeftrix 30th Sep '14 - 1:11pm

    “The benefits cap was a bad idea in the first place, but reducing it further is really wrong.”


    Speaking as a taxpayer: limiting benefits – which I pay for – to a scale equivalent to that our our entire household income has me applauding vigorously!

  • What next from the Tories I wonder? Shall we (disabled) be forced to wear ‘wheelchair badges’ on our clothes to identify us to others’? Will all claimants be forced to wear ‘worthless scrounger’ badges? This reeks like a sewer in a heatwave: it stigmatises us through no choice of mine, have I become disabled – as for the vast majority of those in unemployment – the jobs just are not there. It is as Caron states: also very ill-liberal; I suggest anyone who thinks otherwise should seriously consider which political party they should belong to.

    I would also agree with Caron on the issue of ‘where the heck are our leading MPs denouncing this?’ This is extremely serious, I would not rule out Labour taking a similar stance to IDS’s. Whilst many are clamouring to acquiesce meekly to politics heading ever toward the hard-right, we should be anchoring ourselves the real middle ground. These caps not only affect the poorest and vulnerable in society but also the very ‘hard working’ families that we as a coalition have been claiming to protect.

    This is pernicious : spiteful : degrading and just panders to the Daily Mail reading public who believe everything the tory press feed them.

  • I am really concerned about the language coming out of the Tory Party.

    As if things have not been hard enough on the poor vulnerable, sick and disabled and those in low payed work. Things look like they are about to get a whole lot worse unless the more compassionate members of our society unite together and put a stop to this abhorrent Tory Assault on the poorest.

    I wonder what the Coalitions Autumn Statements is going to contain? there is no doubts that Osborne is going to announce further cuts to welfare over the next 5 years, are the Liberal Democrats going to block this?
    It would be absurd if the Liberal Democrats sign off on Osborne’s plans for cuts and then do a U-turn and campaign for the 2015 election on a totally different platform. The same would be true for the March Budget. How are the Liberal Democrats going to square this circle?

    The policy on trialing claimants receiving benefit payment cards instead of cash is abhorrent and extremely Illiberal, not only in the claimant but also on businesses.
    Which of these business will benefit from this golden hand shake from the Tories? Tesco Asda etc. no doubt the same ones who jumped at the chance of free Labour from the workfare program.
    What if someone is used to doing their shopping at a local discount store or 99p Store or even a market stall, how is it Liberal to deny this to the claimant and to the business who rely on that trade? This is utter lunacy.
    As Caron correctly says, if someone has a problem with drink or drugs, then there should be better services and support to tackle that dependency, Not this big stick to whack them with, which in all probability will do nothing to address their addictions and they would find other ways of raising the funds, possibly by selling the food they had just been forced to purchase from Tesco.
    And how does a payment card address the differences between what different families pay for Gas, Electric, Water, etc. Some families might have higher fuel expenditure than others and find they can not meet the costs because their lovely little prepayment card is dictating that “x” amount of money has to be spent on Food in a supermarket.
    The whole thing stinks.

    I absolutely do not understand how it is fair that Pensioners are always protected from the welfare cuts. Pensions make up over half of the entire welfare Budget, Pensions have rose by 13.2% since the coalition came to power adding Billions of pounds to the welfare budget and yet the government thinks it is acceptable to then slash the welfare budget on the backs of the low paid and unemployed.
    They constantly bang on about how much the welfare budget has risen over the last 10 years and yet they fail to mention where the majority of that rise has come from, Pensions.

    Then there is the changes to pension rules and abolishing the 55% tax rate. The only people who are really going to benefit from this nice little give away are those with big pension pots who have been able to get tax relief on a life time allowance of £1.25 Million and they are able to bequeath this to children and Grandchildren tax free if they pass before the age of 75

    The Tories are playing the same old game they have played for decades, appealing to big businesses, The rich and the older generations, those more inclined to turn out and vote.
    As far as the rest of society goes, we can all rot as far as the Tories are concerned,

    We have to put a stop to this divide and conquer Tory Party who are and will continue to tear Great Britain apart, destroying communities and segregating members of society.

    I am appalled that Labour and the Liberal Democrats are not brave enough to take up the fight and the challenge put down by George Osborne. The silence from the 2 parties is allowing Osborne and co to win the argument.

  • @Jedi
    If you earn that little it’s doubtful you’re even covering your own cost to the state never mind paying for anyone else.

    You undermined the fundamental principle that benefit levels should be related to need and in so doing hugely strengthened the Tory position on welfare. You can’t defend the welfare state by just by being a bit nicer than the Tories. You need to be able to make a principled argument. By voting for the benefit cap and the benefit freeze it’s far from clear what principled argument you can credibly make.

  • Well the illegal drugs trade and prostitution are now included in our GDP, with a combined value bigger agriculture I think this tells us where right wing economists are coming from and how the Tories expect the poor to survive during in austerity Britain.

  • Julian Tisi 30th Sep '14 - 2:01pm

    I’m with jedibeeftrix on this one. I support the principle of a benefit cap so long as it doesn’t leave people in genuine distress. But the level of the benefit cap is pretty high – something like average earnings. And there are some reasonable exceptions where the need is greater.

    I’m sorry to say we have to wake up to the fact that there are a small number of people who earn huge sums from the government living alongside people who work very hard and struggle with the little they have. It is a real kick in the teeth if you’re one of the latter to see the former given so much at your expense when you’re finding it hard to get by. From the former’s point of view there’s a potential for a poverty trap – earning so much on benefits that it would be mad to start work and lose them. It’s crude perhaps, there are genuine exceptions for sure, but at least the benefits cap tries to deal with this problem by removing the disincentive to work.

    For me it’s all about the level at which the cap is set. This is why I totally agree with Caron’s post, apart from the one line “the benefits cap was a bad idea in the first place”. And yes, Lib Dems should be attacking the Tories openly and not behind “Lib Dem source” covers.

  • It’s difficult for the Lib Dems to vigorously oppose something they supported so vigorously in government. Is there some line of dumping the burden of austerity most heavily on those least able to cope at which it becomes “anathema”?

    As to those coming out with nonsense like “I support the principle of a benefit cap so long as it doesn’t leave people in genuine distress” – the benefit cap will always, by definition and without exception, leave people in genuine distress because benefits are already set at a low level where they barely provide for the necessities of a decent life. Any cut from that low level will always impose an unreasonable burden on those affected. And let’s not forget the reason that benefits can get high enough to cap isn’t because people are receiving larges sums of money to spend as they will but rather because successive governments have both failed to build sufficient state housing and failed to control spiraling costs of housing – it isn’t the benefit recipient that’s getting this money but the rentiers who own the property.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 30th Sep '14 - 2:16pm

    It’s just so horrible. It completely takes away people’s freedom on how to spend their money. You can’t buy food from a market stall cos you can’t use your card even though it might be cheaper than in the shops. How are you supposed to pay for a school trip? Give your kid a bus fare?

    And then you have to consider the climate in which people on benefits are denigrated by everyone from the Prime Minister to the right wing tabloid press. Are people seen paying by this card potentially vulnerable to attack? We’ve already seen more attacks on disable people in the last few years.

    I feel so angry about treating human beings like this.

  • Caron you are right – Nick Clegg should have being touring the news studios condemning this and saying this is what we’ve stopped a full fat tory government. We are at 6% in the polls can we please get our press machine into gear and not miss opportunities like this.

  • @AndrewR (30th Sep ’14 – 1:56pm) – “If you earn that little it’s doubtful you’re even covering your own cost to the state never mind paying for anyone else.”

    I suggest you do a calculation of what someone has to earn to take home the equivalent of benefits (a few years back I did this on LDV when the Benefits cap was a hot topic…). Remember, in general only those who are paying higher rate tax are paying in more than they are getting back.

    The major difference between benefits and income is that someone can make savings in one part of their expenditure (eg. housing) and not be penalised by having their income reduced and hence someone with an income can plan ahead. So having an income it can make sense to move out of central London to somewhere cheaper (with spare bedrooms!) yet incur greater commuting costs.

    I suggest that it is here that we should be looking to reform the welfare system. Whilst I’m ambivalent about the “Citizens Wage”, it does provide a level of income certainty missing from the current welfare system.

    But as I’ve said before the coalition could of saved over £1bn todate and cut over £2bn per annum looking beyond 2015 with very little effort and cost by simply scrapping HS2 – that’s a lot of ‘welfare’…

  • Peter Chegwyn 30th Sep '14 - 2:44pm

    Nothing surprising in the Nasty Party showing their true colours.

  • Private landlords, politicians, the queen, the franchised utilities, and various other bodies are the only groups living lavish lifestyles at the tax payers expense. Unless you are involved in some sort of fraud you are highly unlikely to be in anything other than poverty on benefits. Housing benefit is not paid to tenants its paid to landlords. We prop banks and increasingly the mortgage industry, but it is the poor sap living on poverty level benefits that cops all the flak.
    Why is it that we do not describe the powerful who have their fingers in the public purse as scroungers.

  • The Tories are doing an excellent job of uniting the LibDems. By and large, I’ve supported our role in Government but the leadership must set itself firmly apart from these announcements.

    The Tories are, more than ever, a party punching down at the poor and not making cuts through absolute necessity, with a recovering economy there are now other stable options for cutting the debt and he has picked a cruel option.

    We have two strong cards to play next week – Federalism and supporting those on low and middle incomes as the recovery takes hold. We must play them both.

  • Matt (Bristol) 30th Sep '14 - 4:59pm
  • Perhaps benefits should increase by 20% every year and be unlimited. Would that be enough? Right, now where do you get the money from? Cut the NHS? Cancel the overseas development budget? What about some suggestions from you?

    You could always do what Hollande of France did and tax the rich until they all leave. You could tax businesses until they leave. Maybe you could tax the average workers until they are in poverty, but that might increase the benefits bill…

    The money has to come from somewhere so please make some suggestions. Maybe you think we should just add it to the current debt, we have only borrowed £50 billion so far this year.

  • jedibeeftrix 30th Sep '14 - 6:10pm

    @ AndrewR – “If you earn that little it’s doubtful you’re even covering your own cost to the state never mind paying for anyone else.”

    The benefit cap is set at £26,000, which to convert it to an earned wage would be around £40,000 when you take into consideration the third taken by the exchequer.

    That is a sizeable household income, and we get no tax credits or top ups of [any] kind. I do not consider that I am being unreasonable in supporting the cap.

  • Why is the benefits cap wrong in the first place, and why ought it not to decrease if circumstances require, (as average earnings have)?
    Even at ‘only’ £23,000 that cap would equate to take home pay for a worker on a salary of maybe £32,000.
    Honestly, so much is passed to workers to pay you wonder why anyone bothers!

  • Glenn Andrews 30th Sep '14 - 6:12pm

    In his zeal this IDS chap looked one step away from appearing on stage in a twin set and pearls with a penguin glove puppet and retorting….

    What’s that Mr Wibble…. if these feckless layabouts persist in buying anything but state-sanctioned gruel they will have to spend 24 hours w.o.o….. with out oxygen.

    Seriously we should be loudly and publicly condemning this attack on the autonomy of fellow humans.

  • @ jedibeeftrix

    Well said, but if I may point out that Ms Lindsay is insisting that capping the benefit is a disgrace. That means that the recipients of handouts will be richer by the level of inflation. You will have to pay the extra. Since most workers these days get either no pay rise or considerably less than inflation, you will be supporting the benefit inflation from your own pocket.

    I consider this to be unfair and it just proves that working and paying tax is a mug’s game. The LibDems apparently think this is only just. Those who claim benefits are entitled to the extra money. Those who have to pay for the benefits must pay even more.

  • Peter’s comment (5.46pm), needs to be addressed. It’s all well and good hand wringing over what you *wouldn’t do*, but the question still beckons ; What *would you do* to close the accepted £25 billion gap in the UK finances?
    I think the cut from a total benefit cap of £26,000 to £23,000, is reasonable, but I think that the rest of the Tory welfare (proposal), cuts plus this restricted ‘spending card’, look just plain mean spirited.
    Try this link. It provides a basic tool for the task. It’s a few years out of date, and has a limited number of parameters, but it’s good enough to give you an insight into just how difficult it is to *find*, £25 billion?

  • I’ve just checked the UK average wage.

    It looks as though Ms Lindsay’s plan is to have average wage earners (and of course the 50% who earn less than average) , take home less money in their pay packets than the people who do not work but enjoy inflation proof benefits.

    Is that LibDem social justice or does winging about benefit caps without the analysis make a good political sound bite?

    I don’t usually agree with Cameron but on this one he is being sensible and fair.

  • jedi and peter.
    The biggest is recipients of benefits are pensioners and laqndlords. the next is in work, benefits, after that its the disabled who are often old as well and right at the bottom of the pile are the unemployed. So why don’t you guys come out and say you want working families, pensioners and disabled people to be poorer , Actual unemployment benefit is about £70 per, which will also often include the compulsion to work for one the huge profit making companies that have an agreement with the government to provide “training”. .
    My view by the way is that the best way to reduce government expenditure is to stop propping the housing market up. Rents would fall, homes would become more affordable and the benefits bill would shrink as a result.

  • Well done Caron.
    Your response is a good Lineral response.
    But Clegg making some comment on his radio programme will not cut much ice with the voters, let alone with Osborne and Cameron.

    People do to trust Clegg. They do not fall for all this differentiation guff.

    If we were serious about such things we would stop supporting the Osborne budget.

  • I-pad keyboard will be the death of me !!! That should have said —-

    JohnTilley 30th Sep ’14 – 7:21pm
    Well done Caron.
    Your response is a good LIBERAL response.
    But Clegg making some comment on his radio programme will not cut much ice with the voters, let alone with Osborne and Cameron.

    People do NOT trust Clegg. They do not fall for all this differentiation guff.

    If we were serious about such things we would stop supporting the Osborne budget.

  • Roger Roberts 30th Sep '14 - 8:44pm

    Enough is Enough ! Words from the Tory Conference are so illiberal that they must put the continuation of the Coalition in very serious danger – the Benefits Card will have the same defects as the Azure card so roundly condemned in the debates on the recent Immigration Bill – Hansard records Lib Dem objections. A snoopers charter has been totally opposed by Liberal Democrats. Further undermining of the poorest in society would be disgraceful. We cannot be Mr Cameron’s poodle any longer – either we are Liberals motivated by the policies of of a party that “cares” or we will face oblivion.

  • This is a terrifying proposal on two grounds:

    (1) It is a kind of yellow star for benefit claimants. As soon as they produce this card – in a shop, on a bus, wherever – they are instantly identifiable and a target for abuse. Their dignity is destroyed.

    (2)It is a form of electronic surveillance. The state will know when and where these cards are being used, and for what purpose. It is comparable in its Orwellian menace to the satellite surveillance of motor vehicles, which was actually proposed by David Blunkett some years ago as a means of enforcing road pricing, but mercifully dropped.

    I can see no justification whatsoever for our MPs going along with this, other than the likelihood that the hapless Steve Webb has given his nod to it.

  • @Jedi
    You only need to earn around £34,000 not £40,000 to have take home pay higher than the benefit cap. If your household income is £34,000 then you are not a net contributor to the state. You aren’t paying anyone’s benefits.

    The benefit cap applies to households not individuals. No individual receives in benefits anywhere near the average wage.. It’s a political gimmick that plays no significant role in reducing the deficit. The government projected savings of around £110 million a year from the cap when it was introduced. A leaked letter from Eric Pickles suggested that the additional costs incurred by local authorities (through homelessness and temporary accommodation) meant that the policy would cost the government more than it saved. Research since suggests he was right.

  • Little Jackie Paper 30th Sep '14 - 9:55pm

    It is worth pointing out that benefit cards are one way around the problem of ongoing bank mandates used by certain payday loan companies. Addiction is not the only issue here.

    They can have a place, even if they leave a bad taste in the mouth. Not the affront they are made out to be.

    As to the benefit cap, my feeling is that what we are really talking about here is high housing costs and landlord subsidy – but that’s quite a can of worms.

  • jedibeeftrix 30th Sep '14 - 10:18pm

    “If your household income is £34,000 then you are not a net contributor to the state. You aren’t paying anyone’s benefits.”

    Really, just £34,000? Fair enough, try saying that to someone whose household income is £34,000.

    The correct response is’ “so what”. Try selling that to the electorate.

  • jedibeeftrix 30th Sep '14 - 10:46pm

    on that subject:

    “This is sure to leave many middle-earners scratching their heads, wondering how on earth the hundreds of pounds taken from them each month in income tax, National Insurance, VAT, fuel tax etc can be matched, let alone exceeded, by state benefits and value from public services.

    Here things become a little more complicated.

    Firstly, these are averages. Whether you pay more than you get back will depend a great deal on whether you have children of school age, whether you claim child benefit, or whether you need to call on the NHS. Have you taken maternity or paternity leave, or taken part in a government training scheme? It all increases the value you are deemed to have extracted from the state.
    There is a higher proportion of pensioners living higher up the income scale than in 1977.

    There is a higher proportion of pensioners living higher up the income scale than in 1977.

    But the biggest single factor pushing a greater proportion of homes into state dependency is our aging population and the increasing numbers in need of a state pension.

    As they hit retirement, individuals who may have been net contributors all their adult lives suddenly move from paying income tax to taking the state pension and, with age, becoming more likely to call upon services such as the NHS.”

  • The cap is a maximum & most households will not get that amount. The housing benefit payable in the SE will be greater than that in the NE therefore the same sized household in the NE will NOT receive the same as the same sized household in the SE.

    All this division shows just how well the Tories have succeeded in their effort to demonise benefit claimants, the vast majority are either OAPs or in work.

  • I agree with Jedi, Julian and John. The coalition has done a good job of trying to get the welfare bill under control and end the benefits trap. I have seen no explanation of why the cap should be set at the level of average earnings. Surely it should be at a level where people can get by comfortably but no higher – probably somewhere like £15k in most of the country and maybe a bit more in the southeast.

    The cards are a different issue – if they won’t work in practice, don’t bring them in!

  • @johnmc: “Even at ‘only’ £23,000 that cap would equate to take home pay for a worker on a salary of maybe £32,000.”

    This is typically of the shallow thinking that typifies the debate over benefits. No, you don’t need to be earning £32,000 to match it, you don’t even need to be close to that. Why? Because almost everyone who is affected by the cap is affected by the cap because of the money they receive due to their children. Being in work doesn’t remove state support both through tax credits and child benefit. For example a single mother with four children you will get almost £3200 from child benefit alone, and on an income of £23000 before tax could be receiving £10.5k in child tax credits (including childcare) – but the exact numbers on tax credits are highly circumstance dependent.

    This is another reason the Coalition’s rhetoric about it being unfair for benefits to be higher than the median income is utter rubbish.

  • Matthew Huntbach 1st Oct '14 - 8:37pm


    It looks as though Ms Lindsay’s plan is to have average wage earners (and of course the 50% who earn less than average) , take home less money in their pay packets than the people who do not work but enjoy inflation proof benefits.

    But they don’t “take home” the money.It goes straight to private landlords. The reason we have these high benefit payments is that Mrs Thatcher’s government decided to get rid of council housing, so now people who are homeless get put up in private rented accommodation at several times what the rent is for the same accommodation if it has remained in council ownership. The people you talk about here, Peter, I am sure would far rather be living in council housing and so receiving very much less money on paper.

    Plus, Housing Benefit can be claimed by people who work, not just by the unemployed. Your words haven’t taken this into account at all. The low paid people you say get less than the unemployed can claim Housing Benefit to pay their rent in just the same way.

  • Matthew Huntbach 1st Oct '14 - 8:40pm


    This is another reason the Coalition’s rhetoric about it being unfair for benefits to be higher than the median income is utter rubbish.

    Why do you write “the Coalition” when the rhetoric you mean here comes only from the Tories, and I think it’s pretty clear from other contributors here that Liberal Democrats perfectly well understand that it is rubbish and do not at all support it?

  • @MH – “But they don’t “take home” the money.It goes straight to private landlords.”

    Sorry Matthew, it doesn’t always! whilst that is the intention (ie. the full monies get paid to private landlords), the monies are actually paid into the tenants bank account. A neighbour finally managed to get a tenant to leave a property last month (September), who hadn’t paid rent since the rules changed in April – additionally the property needed to be totally refurbished… Due to these types of risk, it is uneconomic to rent out property at council rates, hence one of the many reasons why rents to those on benefits will be higher than they perhaps need to be.

  • The thing that really annoys me about the current Lib Dem stance on the following, welfare cuts, the bedroom tax, the Work Capability Assessments legislation and the sanctioning system legislation. Is the fact that they voted for the very same welfare cuts legislation, the very same bedroom tax legislation, the very same work capability assessment legislation and the very same sanctioning legislation, so they are as much to blame for the effects of that legislation than the Tories. If the Lib Dems presence in coalition was to have been the “moderating force on the Tories” that Mr Clegg said they’d be in 2010, then so many of those people who were sanctioned, lost their ESA because ATOS did such a bad job, lost their homes due to the hated bedroom tax, or in many cases ended up committing suicide due to the harsh legislation, would not had suffered so much.

    The Lib Dems are suffering an attack of amnesia, that it was all the Tories fault, that they had nothing to do with it, well I have news for Mr Clegg and his party, look at the opinion polls, on this day in 2009 the Lib Dems poll rating was 18%, this would rise even further as the party spoke about what it WOULD do if elected but of course they did not, they did the opposite, voted in favour of the most draconian benefit changes in a lifetime, now 5 years on their poll rating is a third of that figure in 2009 6%, and even allowing for a rise which is tempered by the threat of UKIP, the public have spoken, they blame the Lib Dems for what has happened, because they could have voted against benefit changes, voted for higher taxes for the super rich, forced those avoiding or evading tax to pay up, forced companies to fully pay their corporation tax, but no, hit the poor, let the rich get richer, I know how it feels btw, I have mental ill health, and have battled to get the ATOS people to understand, but at times I lived with no money, I mean no money, I had my gas cut off and now I sit in the cold with a candle.

    It is time the Lib Dems apologised to the families of those who committed suicide because of welfare cuts they fully endorsed, not try to distance themselves from the extremes of welfare cuts that they voted for between 2010 and now.

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