Housing benefit reform strains Coalition unity

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The unity of the Coalition Government was under strain last night over moves to cut housing benefit as opposition to the measures grew among Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs. David Cameron yesterday stood by the moves in heated Commons exchanges as Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, claimed ministers were in disarray over the issue.

Ministers are signalling possible concessions by suggesting up to £70m could be redirected from other budgets to soften the impact of the changes.

The Government has announced proposals to cap housing benefit at £400 a week for larger families and to cut the allowance by 10 per cent for claimants who have been jobless for more than a year. Critics warn the cuts could lead to an exodus of less well-off families from expensive areas.

Tory MPs in London have called for the scheme to be phased in to cushion the capital. Mark Field, the Conservative MP for Westminster, warned the cap would create a "huge social upheaval" as poorer families move to less affluent areas.