Letter: Welfare reform

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Letter: Welfare reform

Sir: A new "affluence test", under which women at work might lose their maternity pay unless they could prove that they need it, would introduce an extraordinary and dangerous new principle into public policy ("Blair takes on mission to explain welfare reform", 12 January).

Ministers have obviously been frightened by the determined opposition they faced on lone-parent benefits and rightly fear that if disablement benefits were to be cut that opposition would be much stronger.

But to target better-paid working mothers would be absolutely contrary to the proudly proclaimed adherence to family values and the need to persuade highly qualified women to go back to work.

Moreover, if this is done should not everybody have to pass a similar "affluence test" before they can call upon the police if they are burgled, or use the NHS, the schools system or any service provided by local authorities?

The only explanation for what is being proposed now is that the Treasury, recognising the urgent need for more resources, has come forward with this idea, instead of reducing wasteful military expenditure or facing the inevitability of higher levels of income tax on those who can afford to pay it - options which have been so foolishly ruled out, but to which the Government will have to return.

TONY BENN

London W11

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