The Prime Minister's Office yesterday threw its weight behind Harriet Harman to face down a growing Labour backbench revolt over a pounds 6-a-week cut in lone parent child benefit.
But the Social Security Secretary faced further controversy after a report in the Guardian claimed that benefits for 6.5 million disabled people could be cut. The report said that some benefits could be taxed or means tested. The most radical plan, it added, was to cut the Disability Living Allowance, claimed by 1.8 million people, and to pass the saving on to local authorities to use for community care.
Last night, a spokeswoman for the Department of Social Security said all benefits were under review. "We want to ensure that all resources are deployed effectively. I haven't seen the article, but it is premature to speculate," she said.
Earlier, Downing Street made clear that there would be no change to the policy on single parents, in spite of the threat by Labour MPs to try to embarrass the Government with a vote in the Commons before Christmas.
Mr Blair's personal backing for Ms Harman underlines his determination not to allow her to be picked off by the left wing which is beginning to flex its muscles for the first time on the issue after a stormy confrontation at the weekly Parliamentary Labour Party meeting.
"There was a clear majority in favour of the Government's approach. We have got a number of policies being implemented to deal with poverty and there is broad support on this too. The policy was agreed before the election and it is government policy," said the Prime Minister's Office.
Diane Abbott, a left-wing member of Labour's National Executive Committee, blamed Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, for enforcing the policy, in a clear signal that the critics of the measure are not seeking to make it a personal confrontation with Ms Harman.
"It's not really her - it's Gordon Brown and Gordon Brown is not a great one for backing down," Ms Abbot said on BBC radio.
More than 80 MPs, including 17 Liberal Democrats, signed a Commons motion in July attacking the plans inherited from the Tories which would abolish the higher single-parent rate of income support and child benefit for future claimants worth up to pounds 10.50 a week for some families and pounds 6 a week on average if new claimants do not. seek work. Ministers said there would be no cash losers among current claimants. It is incorporated in a Bill to implement the Government's commitment to spend pounds 200m in a new deal to lift lone parents off welfare into work.
Ms Abbott said a wide spectrum of Labour MPs were against the cut, and 46 Labour MPs have signed a Commons motion led by Audrey Wise, a veteran left winger, and some members of the new intake including Ann Cryer, and John McDonnell.Reuse content