Politics: Parties swap places on benefit cuts

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The Independent Online
The Tories yesterday opposed a pounds 65m benefit cut that they had proposed in government, and accused Labour of hypocrisy for doing something that they had opposed they came to power. Anthony Bevins, Political Editor, reports on the U-turns.

David Rendel, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on social security, was staggered when he discovered that he was not alone in opposing government plans to impose the cash penalty on unemployed people applying for the jobseeker's allowance.

As The Independent reported yesterday, Harriet Harman, the Secretary of State for Social Security, had rejected an appeal from the statutory Social Security Advisory Committee to drop the proposals inherited from the last Tory government - on the grounds that it would penalise 1.9 million of the most vulnerable people in the country.

Under the proposal, from April next year, new benefit applicants will have to wait for seven days, instead of three, before receiving their money, resulting in an average loss of more than pounds 60 for claimants with children.

Mr Rendel promptly put down a formal motion of opposition against the Government Order on Monday night, to force a restricted Commons debate on the issue. But he was surprised yesterday to find that the Tory leader, William Hague, and Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory spokesman, had tabled an identical motion of opposition - against proposals initiated by his own party.

In a statement, Simon Burns, a junior Conservative spokesman, said: "Before the election, Labour pledged to abolish jobseeker's allowance, now they emphasise their commitment to it by tightening its regulations. This is another example of Labour hypocrisy.

"They said one thing in opposition and are doing another in government. Power has gone to their heads and their principles have gone out of the window." He added: "This proposal by the Social Security Secretary illustrates her arrogance, as she has chosen to ignore the advice of the statutory Social Security Advisory Committee, against the introduction of this measure."

A Labour Party spokesman suggested that the Tory move perhaps provided the first sign of what Mr Hague had offered as a "bipartisan approach" to welfare reform - support for the Liberal Democrats.

Mr Rendel said the fact that the Conservatives had put down a motion against their own policy meant that they might join the Liberal Democrats in voting against the measure in Commons committee.

He said that although the Tories had voted with the Government after last year's debate on the controversial single- parents' child benefit cut, they had abstained in two other votes on similar issues.

"But they did start saying things like, `Well, of course, since we suggested this policy things have changed. There is a lot more money in the Treasury now, so we're no longer sure it's really necessary to press ahead with this'," Mr Rendel said. "So it is possible that they're now saying, `Well, yes, we did want to implement this, but we now know the Treasury's got this great war chest of money and we don't have to be so tough any more'."

Mr Smith did not return The Independent's call.

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