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By Peter Hoskin
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Rewarding work infographic 14 july 2013

And
the word of the day is “cap”, as in “benefits cap”. You might have heard it during
Iain Duncan Smith’s growling appearance on the Today Programme
earlier, or read it in Grant Shapps’ article
for the Daily Telegraph
. For today’s the day when the Government extends what
is effectively a £26,000-a-year cap on the out-of-work benefits that can be
claimed by a single household across the whole country. So far, it’s only
applied in four London boroughs.

To
mark the occasion, CCHQ has released the infographic at the top of this page. Actually,
I say “infographic”, but it’s a more a digital raspberry blown in Labour’s collective
face. As we know, and as per the polling that’s available, the Tories think
they’re on to a vote-winner with this cap. Hence Shapps’ confidence, in that
Telegraph article, that “Labour are miles behind” on welfare. Although, as I’ve
said
before
, he and his colleagues shouldn’t allow that confidence to spill over
into callous rhetoric – there’s more to Iain Duncan Smith’s reforms than lazy
lines about “scroungers” and “shirkers” admit.


It’s
all a reminder of how significant the subject of welfare promises to be during
the next election campaign. To my mind, there are three main areas of contention
between the parties. Briefly:

  • Benefit cuts in general … of which the benefits cap is a part. Here
    the argument is both general: what should the overall envelope for welfare
    spending be after the election? And specific: should benefit x, y or z be cut
    by so much, or at all?
  • Universality. Here, as I suggested in this
    post
    , the two main parties are currently positioned awkwardly against each
    other. The Tories are defending pensioner perks for all, while cutting child
    benefit on the grounds that “it is very difficult to justify continuing to pay
    for the child benefit of the wealthiest 15 per cent of families in society”.
    Whereas Labour want to restrict pensioner perks, and tend to attack the child
    benefit cuts. Only the Lib Dems have a consistent position between the two.
  • The progress made by back-to-work programmes. How many
    people has the Government’s Work Programme returned to the labour market? And
    at what cost? We saw the start of this argument last
    November
    , but it’s likely to flare up again, alongside questions about
    Universal Credit and its elongated delivery.  

Much
of this coming battle may be unedifying, but one thing that can be said for it
is: it will more specific than that waged in 2010. Back then, deficit reduction
was spoken of mostly in abstraction. Next time, there’ll be actual cuts and counter-cuts
to chew over.

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