Conservatives raise the spectre of food vouchers for the poor

Cameron hints at paying benefits 'in kind' but drops any mention of regional welfare levels

A future Conservative Government would consider handing out some state benefits "in kind" rather than in cash, David Cameron said yesterday, raising the spectre of food vouchers for the poor.

In a highly provocative speech, the Prime Minister also suggested breaking the link between benefits and inflation and reducing the amount of money paid to people to cut the £84bn bill for working-age welfare.

But a proposal to introduce regional welfare levels – so that people in areas where pay is lower receive lower benefits – was removed from his speech at the last minute. Downing Street later insisted that the idea was still "open to debate".

In his speech, Mr Cameron made clear that he was not putting forward specific policy proposals and said he wanted to have "a real national debate and ask some fundamental, searching questions about working-age welfare". However, critics said his ideas were clearly skewed in favour of an unprecedented benefits crackdown and designed to appeal to voters who believe the welfare state is too generous.

"Financial help through the benefits system provides a vital lifeline for hundreds of thousands of children," said Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children's Society. "Taking this away in yet further cuts to welfare would be a complete disaster for so many children up and down the country."

Mr Cameron said he wanted to end a "culture of entitlement" which saw some people living long-term on welfare with higher incomes than neighbours who worked. Among the ideas he floated was the withdrawal of housing benefit from under-25s, removing the right for high-earners to keep their council homes, a reduction in the £20,000-a-year cap on housing support and limits on the additional benefit received by families with three or more children. He also suggested it might be possible to curtail cash payments to those on welfare. "Is it right that we continue to pay the vast majority of welfare benefits in cash, rather than in benefits in kind, like free school meals?" he said.

However, a similar scheme brought in for asylum-seekers had to be dropped after evidence emerged that it stigmatised families.

Perhaps the most controversial section of the speech was briefed to reporters before Mr Cameron had spoken, and was then dropped from the final version. In it, Mr Cameron was to suggest introducing more regional flexibility into welfare payments because benefit levels affected incentives to work.

"Clearly wage rates vary around the country," a Downing Street spokesman said. "What someone receives in benefits compared to what they potentially get by going into a job has an impact on the incentives they face." Afterwards, he would not comment on why it had been removed, but said the Prime Minister wanted to have a broad debate on welfare.

Aware of polling which shows widespread support for a benefits crackdown, Labour did not condemn all aspects of Mr Cameron's proposals but pointed out that a plan to force those out of work to do community service had been brought in by the last government before being scrapped by the Coalition. Liam Byrne, the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: "David Cameron has put worklessness to a record high and he's inviting us to believe that it's the fault of everyone except him. It's now very clear that a welfare revolution was all talk. Each week we hear of another new initiative, another crackdown, another test."

Helen Dent, chief executive of Family Action, said: "We are concerned about some of the proposals the Prime Minister floated in his speech.

"Safeguards should be in place so that children are not punished by Government for their parents' problems, and young people should not be penalised by changes to housing which could trap many vulnerable young people in unsuitable circumstances."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border