Leading article: Ministers are on the back foot — and have only themselves to blame

Related Topics

The Coalition Government has been struggling with unforeseen consequences this week. Removing child benefits from higher rate taxpayers was presented as a simple reform when the Chancellor, George Osborne, announced the policy on the eve of the Conservative Party conference earlier this month.

But it is turning out to be quite a headache.

The anomaly that a family with two earners with individual incomes below the higher rate threshold will continue to be able claim the benefit was immediately obvious and undermined the "fairness" justification for the reform. And now the fact that the benefit is paid directly to the child's mother is presenting practical problems too.

The Inland Revenue will need to ask the mother whether she is living with a higher rate taxpayer when she applies for the benefit. But it is unclear what happens if the mother's partner is self-employed and unsure of his income over the coming year. Perhaps such problems can be ironed out, but the reform is certainly not as simple as first presented.

It is a similar story with the Coalition's cap on the amount of housing benefits that a single family can receive in a week. The consequence of imposing this cap is that (on Whitehall estimates) some 17,000 poor families in parts of London with high rents will be forced out of their communities. This prospect is causing alarm not just from backbench Liberal Democrats, but also Conservatives representing outer London constituencies who fear an influx of poor residents from the centre. The London Mayor, Boris Johnson, threw petrol on the flames when he spoke of "Kosovo-style social cleansing".

Yesterday the National Housing Federation also pointed to perverse incentives arising from the Government's plans to raise social housing rents closer to those in the private sector. The federation argues that rents at this level will provide a disincentive for social tenants to find work since any job they could find would be most unlikely to pay enough for them to afford the new rent without the continuing help of housing benefit. It is becoming clear that, without a massive increase in the supply of social housing and a general fall in private sector rents, attempts to cut housing benefit are simply going to impose costs elsewhere.

The irony is that the general thrust of both policies is reasonable. The £21bn social housing bill is a colossally inefficient use of public money. And it is intolerable to pay wealthy families child benefit at a time when the public finances are under such pressure. At a time of inevitable economies, all fiscal transfers should go to families in most need of support.

Yet the Government finds itself on the back foot. And it only has itself to blame. The Treasury announced these policies with insufficient consultation and inadequate analysis of the social consequences. The debacle over housing benefit is particularly revealing. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, claims that it is one of his animating desires to spring the welfare trap and reduce poverty. But his Chancellor's policies on benefits have been driven primarily by a dogmatic urge to reduce the deficit over the course of a single parliament. What this week's shambles has revealed is that, as far as the Treasury is concerned, the interests of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society are very much an afterthought.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next

In Sickness and in Health: 'I'm really happy to be alive and to see Rebecca'

Rebecca Armstrong
Supporters in favour of same-sex marriage pose for a photograph as thousands gather in Dublin Castle  

The lessons we can learn from Ireland's gay marriage referendum

Stefano Hatfield
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine