By Tim Montgomerie
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YouGov found (£) (PDF) that 69% of British people, including two-thirds of Labour supporters, either support the Coalition's benefits cap of £26,000 per household or think it should be even stricter. Only 16% want a more generous cap or no cap at all. The cap is one of the reasons why welfare reform is the most popular part of the Coalition's programme. In times of plenty hard-working families are more willing to indulge a wasteful benefits system but when the "squeezed middle" is facing a decade of flat or falling incomes there is no support for any indulgence of any kind.
In today's Independent (which, interestingly, backs the cap in its leader column) Mary Ann Sieghart writes an excellent piece, warning the Labour leader that he is dangerously out of touch on the issue of benefits:
"Labour that needs to re-examine its position. In government, its uncritical admiration of bankers and its generosity to benefit claimants made it look as if it were on the side of the very rich and the very poor, but not of many people in between. And in between is where most voters sit. If Ed Miliband means what he says about standing up for the squeezed middle, he should uncritically support the benefit cap and ask his peers to do the same."
For Iain Duncan Smith the benefits cap is a fundamentally moral policy. Few things are more undermining of public confidence in the welfare state than the fact that many households are better off on benefits than in work. That fact is deeply corrosive of the work ethic and it is deeply disappointing – but, sadly, not surprising – that the Church of England's bishops do not see this. IDS was direct in his condemnation of the bishops in an interview with The Sunday Times (£): “The question I’d ask these bishops is," IDS says, "why over all these years, have they sat back and watched people being placed in houses they cannot afford? It’s not a kindness.” The Welfare Secretary continues:
“I would like to see their concerns about ordinary people, who are working hard, paying their tax and commuting long hours, who don’t have as much money as they would otherwise because they’re paying tax for all of this. Where is the bishops’ concern for them?”
Interviewed on this morning's Today programme Mr Duncan Smith challenged Labour to stop ducking the tough decisions on welfare. Ed Miliband supports welfare reform in principle, IDS noted, but opposes every individual measure proposed by the Coalition.
George Osborne, Tory election strategist as well as Chancellor, sees the benefits cap (very much his creation) and the immigration cap as crucial electoral weapons. The Conservatives need many more of the striving class (Thatcher's Essex Man) to back them at the next election. Mr Osborne believes that the Government's determination to reduce welfare bills and net immigration places Conservatives much closer to those voters than Labour. The two caps are our political cavalry as we raid Ed Miliband's heartlands, one senior Tory tells me.