By Tim Montgomerie
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The Sun brings to life a story that first appeared in The Times a few Saturdays ago. Iain Duncan Smith is being asked to find another £10 bllion of welfare cuts. This won't be easy. Many cuts that the Chancellor has already pocketed for future years' projections haven't yet been made. Welfare cuts are always more popular in principle than when the hard cases start filling newspapers. The Sunday Express' coverage of the Remploy closures being a case in point. If further cuts are necessary IDS doesn't want them to fall hard on working individuals and families. He thinks better off pensioners shouldn't be exempt. Christian Guy of the Centre for Social Justice agrees. He writes this for today's Sun (bottom of this page):
"Middle-class benefits are luxuries we can’t afford. It’s madness for millionaire pensioners or expats on the Costa del Sol to get welfare handouts. And do all the 11million people getting free bus travel really depend on it? Compassionate Britain has a proud history of helping those who fall on hard times. That’s the point of our welfare system. But benefits should be reserved for people who genuinely need them. Politicians must rethink our five-star menu of “nice-to-have” middle-class giveaways."
David Cameron, The Sun tells us, does not agree. Neither does George Osborne. They remember the granny tax controversy. They remember the fact that pensioners are twice as numerous as younger voters and much more likely to vote. They remember the promise David Cameron made in the election debates not to chop pensioner benefits. They are keen to ensure that Labour doesn't have an opportunity to tell older voters that Cameron lied to them in the same way that Clegg lied to students. Numbers 10 and 11 fear a U-turn on pensioner benefits could cause problems not unlike the Liberal Democrats' U-turn on tution fees.
I'm left thinking that IDS is right fundamentally but that Cameron is correct politically.
In the absence of a straight-talking, lead-from-the-front Wisconsin-style approach the best way forward is the spending commission proposed by Paul Goodman. A consensus on what a smaller, budget-balancing state might look like might not be possible but we should at least make an effort to find one.