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By Harry Phibbs
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The Times journalist Daniel Finkelstein is a bright and engaging fellow. Reading his stuff is enjoyable as you follow his reasoning weighing the merit of an argument. He is open minded and interested in radical ideas – unlike so many of his fellow pundits who are sneeringly dismissive. However Mr Finkelstein also agonises over the difficulties.

When I first met him he was Chairman of the Young Social Democrats and a great fan of David Owen. He then joined the Conservatives and was a Chris Patten enthusiast. He worked at CCHQ hand in glove with the then Party Chairman. An unlikely coupling.

So anyway although Mr Finkelstein is a Conservative he is not Thatcherite revolutionary. Yet in a recent column (£) on public spending he included this thought on what the Labour Party (or I suppose the Government) could do to achieve further reductions:

Perhaps it could start welfare provision at 21..

At the other end of the scale the age at which the old age pension is eligible is being increased with little fuss. I have suggested raising it to 70 – phased in over a few years – and Mr Finkelstein agrees.

Raising the age at which welfare benefits are first eligible for the young could be phased in as well. On the other hand in some ways it could go further – David Cameron has proposed that those under 25 should cease to be eligible for Housing Benefit. That would affect 370,000 people and save just under £2 billion a year.

The various benefits such as Income Support and Jobseekers Allowance, that would be relevant, would offer further savings on top of those for Housing Benefit. Perhaps another billion or two rather depending on how high the qualifying age was raised. However there would also be wider benefits to the economy. More people would be working and boosting growth. There would also the factor that if someone leaving school had established a habit of working they would be less likely to suddenly quit their job and start taking benefits when they hit their 21st or 25th birthday. So the wider savings would be greater.

Over to you, Iain Duncan Smith.

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