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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Recruitment Genius: Business / Operations Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well-established and growi...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive - Major Sporting Venue

£29500 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Electronic Engineer - Smart Home / IoT Devices

£32500 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Electronic Engineer is requi...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible