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UK Politics

Andy McSmith's Diary: Love costs - IDS imposes a new ‘bedroom tax’ for St Valentine’s Day


Friday, as everyone knows, is St Valentine’s Day, a day for exchanging doe-eyed love messages and looking indulgently upon young lovers. That is unless you work for the nation’s top party pooper, Iain Duncan Smith, whose department has put out an extraordinary statement warning benefit claimants that if they fall in love on Valentine’s Day, they must tell IDS or one of his minions, or risk running foul of the law.

“If you’re a single person claiming benefits and your Valentine’s Day romance leads to something more serious, make sure you inform the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of any change in circumstances, or you could find yourself being investigated for benefit fraud,” runs the warning message, issued via the DWP press office.

It goes on to quote Christine Caine, DWP fraud manager in the North-east – where chronic unemployment leaves a disproportionately large number of young people dependent on benefits. She says: “Even if someone has genuinely forgotten to tell us about their partner living with them the amount of benefits wrongly overpaid can amass to many thousands of pounds very quickly – and that’s money they’ll have to pay back. Those who think they can steal from the taxpayer better think again.”

Not content to punish claimants for having a spare bedroom, IDS wants to penalise them for what they get up to in the bedroom.

Giving it a bit of welly

This is the week when the politicians took to their wellies – David Cameron in wellies, Ed Miliband in wellies, Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage, Philip Hammond, Eric Pickles, Chris Smith – wellie wearers all. Although London has hardly been touched by flooding, even Boris Johnson headed off to Staines adorned in wellies – brand new wellies, the LBC presenter Nick Ferrari, surmised.

His studio guest, Rachel Johnson, Boris’s sister, concurred: “You’re right, you’re right, Nick. I haven’t seen those wellies before, personally. They’re black and red. They’re like the sort of wellies you’d buy a two-year-old boy who likes splashing in puddles. Listen Nick, obviously, some aide rushed off to the nearest Poundland and bought him a pair of the cheapest wellies he could.”

Spot the difference

Bald spot news: witnesses in the gallery during Prime Minister’s Questions observed that the famous bald spot that comes and goes in different shapes and sizes around David Cameron’s crown was not there. It was gone, vanished completely – a tribute, no doubt, to the skills of the Prime Minister’s £90-a-cut barber, Raffaele Claudio Carbosiero, MBE, – who has repaired the thatch as rain pours down.

Forecasting a low poll

Labour is playing down expectations that they will win today’s by-election in Wythenshawe and Sale East by a thumping majority, because it is going to be a struggle to persuade voters, especially Labour ones, to make their way to the polling stations in bad weather.

Turnout in by-elections in safe Labour seats can be shockingly low: when Lucy Powell held Manchester Central in 2012, just 18.2 per cent of the electorate voted. The late Paul Goggins held Wythenshawe at the last general election on a 54.3 per cent turn out, the 11th lowest in the country.

But as the Electoral Reform Society pointed out, you can hardly blame people in places like Wythenshawe for not voting when the political parties make so little effort to persuade them to. Between them they spent the equivalent of 51p per voter campaigning in that particular constituency, a sixth of what they spent on some the marginal seats.