Memo reveals planned cuts

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The Independent Online
Tony Blair was facing a fresh revolt among backbenchers last night following the leak of a memo threatening benefit cuts to the sick and disabled.

The memo, leaked to Channel 4 News, appears to pave the way for cuts in the benefits to pay for improvements in health and education. However, following on the heels of benefit cuts to lone parents, it is likely to anger MPs who feel they have already been pushed too far.

Written last Sunday by the chief policy adviser to Harriet Harman, Secretary of State for Social Security, the memo says: "The Government has made clear its aim to release resources from social security to spend more on health and education and it is likely that a high proportion of the necessary savings will have to come from benefits paid to sick and disabled people, including compensatory benefits for industrial injury."

It also advised the minister on the likely fallout from further benefit cuts and suggested potential sweeteners. "The Secretary of State is clear that it will not be possible to make substantial savings from the sickness and disability benefits unless Government as a whole has a coherent and convincing story to tell about its strategy towards sick and disabled people," it said. It suggested giving more money to "disability facility grants".

Ken Livingstone, who voted against the lone parent benefit cuts, said Labour MPs would tell the whips on Monday "they just won't go along with this".

The benefits in question amount to pounds 16bn, or 2 per cent of spending. "What sort of society isn't prepared to spend 2 per cent of its wealth on its sick and its disabled?" asked Mr Livingstone. "Disabled people want to work, like single mothers do if they get the chance. But for the vast majority of these people, work is not going to be an option."

Another Labour rebel, Lynne Jones, told Channel 4 she did not want to have to vote against her Government again. "But the Government will have to listen to the party and to the parliamentary party."

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