Left-wingers have a 'romantic' view of poverty, says minister

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Indy Politics

The Government will today accuse Labour critics of its plans to reform welfare of wanting to condemn poor people to a life in poverty.

John Hutton, the Blairite Work and Pensions Secretary, will challenge opponents to drop their "romantic" view of poverty and support a controversial shake-up of incapacity benefit (IB) to be unveiled later this month.

In a speech in London he will anger opponents of the changes by saying: "A myth has built in parts of the left that it is somehow a sign of success of welfare policy to be claiming benefit. It is not.

"There is nothing romantic about being poor - those who think there is cannot have had experience of what it was like. It is tough to try to get by ... when there is no money coming in except benefit. It grinds you down. Even if the economy could support keeping people on ever higher and more lavish benefits with little in return, which it demonstrably cannot - where would be the value in that? Worklessness can decimate families ... It grinds you down."

Setting out his thinking behind his planned changes to benefits for 2.7 million sick and disabled people, Mr Hutton will argue that the move is in line with the traditional Labour values which led the Labour Government of 1945-51 to create the welfare state.

He will say: "By ... ending the ignominy of a system that can trap people rather than helping them into work, New Labour is seeking to return to the true nature of Beveridge and Attlee's welfare state."

He will highlight the changing nature of IB, pointing to the increasing number of women on it and saying the proportion of new claimants citing stress and mental problems has risen from a quarter to a third since the mid 1990s.Mr Hutton will say that IB for new claimants will in future be based on "measuring and building up each individual's capacity rather than writing them off as incapable."

This will mean that new claimants capable of some work will have to make efforts to return to the labour market to qualify for IB rather than the less generous jobseeker's allowance for the unemployed.

Although the lower benefit rates will not apply immediately to existing claimants, Mr Hutton wants them to take advantage of expanded government help with training and rehabilitation. He will say: "We must not abandon those who have been failed by the current system."

After issuing his Green Paper on welfare, Mr Hutton will announce changes to the troubled Child Support Agency. Last night Frank Field, the former minister for welfare reform, urged Tony Blair in a letter not to "duck the opportunity for fundamental, root and branch reform", saying the Prime Minister did so in a 1998 review.

Describing the CSA as "broken-backed,"' Mr Field called for collection of child maintenance to be handed to Revenue & Customs to end the current "chaos".