David Cameron has vowed to reduce the annual benefits cap from £26,000 to £23,000 “within the first few days” of a Conservative victory in the general election.
The Prime Minister said the £135 million in savings generated by this further squeeze for benefit claimants would be used towards funding three million apprenticeships by 2020, a scheme expected to cost £300 million annually.
The maximum loss - on top of the effects of the existing cap - would be £60 a week to households, with an average weekly loss of around £40 or £25 for those newly capped.
Another £120 million would be derived from removing housing benefit from 18 to 21 year olds on Jobseekers' Allowance.
Mr Cameron said the introduction of the cap in 2013 created a "stampede to the job centre" as the message was received that benefits were a safety net, not "a lifestyle choice".
"This tells you everything you need to know about our values. Conservatives believe we should be giving people the chance of a better future while encouraging people on benefits back into work," he told The Daily Telegraph.
Experts' predictions for the general election
Experts' predictions for the general election
1/10 Andrew Hawkins (ComRes)
Just as the polls in 2010 pointed to no overall majority for any party, the overwhelming evidence points to Labour either being the largest party or getting a small majority, probably below 20. The Lib Dems and SNP should each win between 25 and 35 seats, with single-figure wins for both Ukip and the Greens.
2/10 Joe Twyman (YouGov)
I predict it will be close. I predict a few tremors, though earthquakes are unlikely. I predict the eventual winner may not be the direct result of public opinion, but instead the outcome of political negotiations. It’s too early to predict numbers given all the uncertainties surrounding (among other things) Ukip, the SNP and the Lib Dems. It is possible that it will be close between Conservative and Labour in terms of both votes and seats. The Lib Dems might retain 20-30 seats and the balance of power, despite small gains for the SNP, and at most half a dozen Ukip seats. Gun to my head? Labour minority government.
3/10 Ben Page (Ipsos MORI)
A mug’s game for this election months away, but my predictions in order of likelihood: most likely a hung parliament or coalition of some kind, closely followed by either a small Labour majority or an equally small Conservative majority. Given how close the parties are, the unknown performance of Ukip in key marginals, the effect of incumbency on Lib Dem losses, the final size of SNP surge and so on, to be more precise is simply foolish! Professor Tetlock, who found that forecasts by experts were only slightly better than throwing dice, weighs heavily upon me!
4/10 Rick Nye (Populus)
I can see a hung parliament, where Labour is the largest party in terms of seats – though not necessarily in terms of votes, with the Lib Dems having 30 seats or fewer, the SNP having up to 20 seats and Ukip having no more than five seats. In short, it’s going to get messy and stay messy for some time to come.
5/10 Nick Moon (GfK)
I can’t recall there ever being an election more difficult to predict than this one. I’m confident no party will have an overall majority, with the Tories probably the largest party but no single partner for a viable coalition, with the Lib Dems on 25 seats, the SNP 20, Ukip three, and the Greens one.
6/10 Damian Lyons Lowe (Survation)
We might have expected a workable Labour majority, were it not for the wild-card rise of the SNP in Scotland. Survation’s December Scottish polls suggest an almost complete wipeout by the SNP in Scotland and result in 40+ seat gains – mostly at Labour’s expense. My current predictions are: Labour the largest party by 40-50 seats over the Tories, no overall majority; Tories 235-255 seats; Lib Dems 20-30 seats; SNP 30-40 seats – maybe held back from potential support level by opposition incumbency and tactical voting by pro-unionist voters. Finally, Ukip, 5-10 wins from Conservatives, including Rochester and Clacton, and potentially a single Labour-seat surprise.
7/10 Michelle Harrison (TNS)
The battleground over the next three months is at the kitchen table – the difference between what the statistics tell us about the economy, the experience that Britons are having of managing their household budgets, and where – and if – they believe politics can make a difference. In this regard, the disconnect with the major political parties is more interesting than the horse race.
8/10 James Endersby (Opinium Research)
Our first poll for 2015 shows Labour one point ahead [see above], but polls four months out from an election are snapshots, not predictions. It would be extremely unwise for a pollster to make a firm prediction now. At the moment, Opinium’s estimate on polling day would be the Tories slightly ahead on vote share, but Labour slightly ahead on seats. These numbers are based on a uniform swing, with tweaks to Green and Ukip numbers based on local information: Labour 320 seats, Conservatives 271, Lib Dems 20, SNP 16, Plaid Cymru three, Greens two, Ukip four. A hung parliament with Labour potentially closer to a majority coalition than the Conservatives.
9/10 Martin Boon (ICM)
I’ve not recovered from the Scottish referendum campaign yet, and here we go with another wildcard strewn nail-biter. For me, Labour on 30 per cent will only fractionally nudge past their woeful 2010 showing – behind the Tories on 33 per cent – but enough to secure more seats (290 for Labour, 280 for the Tories) on boundary wackiness. The Lib Dems will secure 14 per cent of the vote and 35 seats; Ukip will also get 14 per cent, but that only gets them a couple of seats. As for Scotland, I’m bewildered, but as you asked I’ll say 30 seats for the SNP, which wipes out a breathing-space victory in seats for Labour.
10/10 Lord Ashcroft (Lord Ashcroft Polls)
Declined to take part. His spokeswoman said: “As he has said many times, his polls are snapshots not predictions.” Health warning: when The Independent on Sunday carried out a similar exercise in April 2010, at the start of that year’s election campaign, eight out of eight pollsters predicted a Conservative overall majority.
"We want to put people's hard-earned taxes into lifting people up, not holding them down. Over the next five years millions of young people will get a decent start in life, learning a trade, and knowing the purpose and pride that comes with that."
Campbell Robb, chief executive of housing charity Shelter, said taking away housing benefit for young people "would be a disaster".
"For the small number of young people who need help while they find work or get back on their feet, this part of the safety net is often the only thing that stands between them and the streets," he said.
Paul Noblet, Head of Public Affairs at the youth homelessness charity Centrepoint, warned that for the most vulnerable young people, housing benefit is a lifeline, not a lifestyle choice.
"The young people we support simply cannot return home because their families already live in overcrowded accommodation or because they have suffered violence or abuse. Removing more benefits from young people will only cause further misery and homelessness."
The Prime Minister announced the proposed cap as the Labour leader Ed Miliband was poised to pledge longer home visits by social care workers and 5,000 new home care staff members when he sets out its 10-year plan for the NHS.
The Tories accused Mr Miliband of “weaponising” the NHS for political gain and claimed a Labour government would put the health service at risk by bringing “economic chaos” to Britain.
Shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves said the Labour party supports a cap on benefits and will ask an independent commission to assess whether the cap should be lower in some areas.
"But David Cameron can't hide from the fact that his government has spent £25 billion more than planned on welfare because of his failure to tackle the low pay that leaves millions dependent on benefits to make ends meet," she said.
"And nobody will believe promises on apprenticeships from a government that had seen the number of apprenticeships for young people fall."
Additional reporting by PAReuse content