Politics: Blair puts case for cutting benefits

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The Independent Online
Twelve people were arrested yesterday after demonstrators protesting at proposed cuts in disability benefits threw red paint over the Downing Street gates. Meanwhile, Fran Abrams reports, the Prime Minister explained how the plans fitted in with his Christian beliefs.

Disability rights campaigners chanted "Tony, Tony, Shame on you!" and daubed the words "Blair's Blood" on the pavement outside Downing Street.

The Prime Minister was not at home, though. He was attending a number of events in and near his constituency, including a visit to Durham Cathedral.

While there, he told reporters it was "nonsense" to suggest that his own Christian beliefs clashed with the need to tighten up on social security benefits.

"What we have got to do is make sure those people who are genuinely in need get the help they want because the system at the moment is failing them," he said.

"We need to reform a system that is leaving more people in poverty and yet we are seeing bills rise and rise and rise and rise so that we are spending, as I have been saying to people, more money on our social security benefits than on our schools, hospitals and police together."

The protest, organised by the Disabled People's Direct Action Network, led to the gates at the front of Downing Street being blocked off.

At the same time as the Downing Street protest, the National Federation of the Blind of the UK launched a "Scrooge" campaign to protect disabled people's benefits and rights.

In a statement, the federation said: "All disabled people would like the opportunity to work and be off benefits.

A leaked memo from David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, at the weekend showed the extent of cabinet dissent on the issue. John Prescott, Frank Dobson, Clare Short and Robin Cook are also believed to be unhappy about the detail of some of the proposed cuts, which could involve taxing or means-testing disability benefits.

The shadow Chancellor and former secretary of state for social security Peter Lilley claimed that Labour was seeking simply to make cuts rather than weed out those who should not be claiming.

"They are actually going to cut the money for disabled people. We believe you should not cut the amount going to individual disabled people, but that you should try to stop it going to people who are not genuinely disabled or could be helped back into work," he said.

It was reported last night that official figures due for publication next month would show 40 per cent of disability benefits went to people on above-average incomes. Ten billion pounds of the total pounds 23.5bn was paid to above-average earners, while pounds 3.5bn went to the top 25 per cent. However, a Department of Social Security official suggested the true position might have been exaggerated.

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