Letter: A freeze in benefits would be counterproductive

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The Independent Online
The writer is the Liberal Democrat spokesman on Social Security in the House of Lords.

Sir: It has been clear for a long time that rising unemployment is leading to unacceptable increases in public spending. However, if the Treasury attempts (report, 6 October) to cut or freeze pensions and income support, it should ask whether these measures will achieve the desired effect.

There is a growing body of evidence coming from the National Children's Home and the Family Welfare Association, among others, that present levels of income support do not always allow an adequate diet. It is not impossible that cuts could lead to death. The Treasury might not regard this as an insuperable objection.

It is perfectly capable of drafting a statement in language reminiscent of Field Marshall Hague about the need for national sacrifice. However, when the Government White Paper The Health of the Nation has stressed the importance of adequate diet to good health, they will find it harder to answer the objection that worsening diet may increase spending on the health service.

For good or ill (and perhaps for both) we are a less disciplined country than we were in 1916. People are less ready to obey authority at risk to their own lives. Cuts in income support risk increases in shoplifting: since someone must pay for the goods, these may increase prices and so add to inflation. Cuts may also lead to rising crime. Since it is far more expensive to support people in prison than to pay them income support, the Treasury may find that all or much of its saving is locked up inside prison gates.

The cause of the overspending is unemployment and until the cause is alleviated it is very hard to control the effect.

Yours sincerely

RUSSELL

London, SW1

7 October

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