Letter: A freeze in benefits would be counterproductive

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The Independent Online
Sir: I read with dismay your report that the Cabinet is considering cutting the real value of, or even freezing completely, pensions and income support (6 October). Income support represents the weekly safety net upon which about 8 million people rely. Of these, 2 million are children. The total allowed a day to meet the needs of two children aged under 11 is a mere pounds 5.48. I wonder how many Cabinet ministers know how they spent their last pounds 5.48.

Social and community workers are already reporting levels of hardship not seen for many years. Research by this department in Bradford found that for many claimants the nightmare of trying to balance the weekly budget had got worse since the 1988 social security changes. The extent of unmet need it revealed has been echoed in numerous reports from charities and also by research commissioned by the DSS itself.

For all the damage done to the social security system during the Thatcher years, her government stopped short of de-indexing the then supplementary benefit rates, despite pressure from the Treasury to do so. Indeed, I have a series of quotations in my files from Ministers committing themselves to protecting the basic safety net for 'the needy'.

Is the 'caring' Major government prepared to break that basic principle, having made so much of targeting help on those in greatest need through income support? Mr Major should remember his words prior to the general election when he promised that 'no government that I lead . . . will forget' the people who live on the wrong side of the tracks.

With reference to the Archbishop of Canterbury's speech, also reported, there can be no morality in asking some of the poorest members of our society to pay for the failure of the government's economic policy because the Treasury sees this as 'the simple solution' to the public spending problem. If, however, the Treasury does not respond to such pleas, based on morality, it might at least stop to think about the increased pressures on the health and social services that are likely to result from an intensification of poverty.

Yours faithfully,

RUTH LISTER

Head of the Department of Applied Social Studies

University of Bradford

Bradford, West Yorkshire

7 October

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