Benefits should go to the 'responsible', minister suggests

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Contentious plans to cut housing and child benefits from disruptive families could be extended across the social security system, Alistair Darling, the Work and Pensions Secretary, indicated yesterday.

He said there was no bar to using the benefits system to promote social objectives, as controversy over cuts in payments to criminals and disruptive families intensified.

Mr Darling told members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery: "I believe there is no unconditional right to benefit. It's entirely consistent with our beliefs that we should give people rights and support when they need support but say that in return that people behave responsibly in relation to other citizens."

Mr Darling insisted that moves to force people claiming unemployment benefits to take up training or jobs had been successful in cutting jobless rates and insisted that the principle of linking benefits to responsibilities would be extended. He said: "I can see nothing wrong in saying to somebody that if we support you and we give you benefit, you have an obligation.

"It's not only possible, but entirely desirable that we should look at making sure the social security system and the benefits system are matched by responsibility. It's not asking too much of someone to say you have responsibilities to your fellow neighbours and to other people in society."

He said the Government was looking at linking the criminal justice system to benefits. "It is right that we should ask ourselves if there is a role for the benefits system as part of the wider system in asserting the values we hold and asserting the kind of behaviour that we want to see.

"We have to look at what is practical, what works. But I do believe we have moved a long way from when social security payments were some sort of social insurance you took and nothing was asked of you."

The Prime Minister was criticised by Iain Duncan Smith over benefit cuts to offenders who failed to carry out community sentences. The Tory leader said only 39 people had their benefits cut between October and March because they breached community service orders.

Mr Blair said: "As a result of measures taken, crime has actually fallen under this Government whereas it doubled under the Conservatives."

Mr Duncan Smith replied: "With violent crime rising, as the public knows, do you not think that instead of gimmicks it would be far better to do what the public wants which is to put real police back on the streets and not in police stations like you have got?"