Benefit changes will cut reliance on state

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THE ELDERLY and disabled will have to make more provision for themselves and rely less on the state, Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Social Security, said last night.

Mr Darling launched a crusade to "modernise" the welfare state and promised that the Government would unveil its proposals in the next few weeks.

He predicted that over the next 50 years, spending on health and education would rise in line with the nation's prosperity. "As people make more provision for themselves, the share of that welfare spend borne by the state in the form of benefits is likely to fall over the same period."

While he promised to ensure "dignity in retirement" for all, he said people had "a responsibility to put money aside and make provision for themselves".

Pointing out that 70 per cent of people contributing to the state pension scheme also had an occupational pension, he said: "Over time, we would expect these people and others who are in a position to provide for themselves to do so and rely less on direct payments from the Government."

Mr Darling also made clear his determination to reduce the benefits bill for the sick and disabled, which accounts for about a quarter of the pounds 100bn- a-year social security budget.

Frank Field, the former Social Security minister who quit over the issue, warned that the Government was in danger of a "betrayal". Writing in Tribune magazine, he said: "The easiest option will be to set out a stakeholder plan and invite people to join. Such a proposal after all the talk and consultation of the past 16 months would be nothing more than a cop-out."