Oliver Wright: A popular reform that will cause real misery


Oliver Wright
Monday 23 January 2012 01:00 GMT

The Government has already suffered three defeats in the House of Lords to its controversial Welfare Reform Bill and today it looks like it could suffer a fourth.

But ministers are far more relaxed about these defeats than they were about the savaging their Lordships gave the Government's health reforms last year. This is because, on the issue of welfare reform, they believe they have public opinion on their side.

A recent poll by YouGov found that just 9 per cent of voters were opposed to the idea of a cap in benefits and 36 per cent thought it should be imposed at £20,000 – £6,000 less than the Government is proposing. Interestingly, over 50 per cent of Labour and Liberal Democrat voters were in favour of a cap at £26,000 or below.

In the minds of ministers, the idea being defeated on an issue where they have broad public support just helps to define them against the Opposition.

They know that eventually they can push the measures through Parliament and in the meantime a popular policy gets more exposure.

All this is causing problems for Labour. Yesterday the party put out a confusing statement saying they would not oppose a benefits cap but would seek to amend the Bill "to bring a compromise between the bishops and the Government because we don't think council tax payers should be hit with a massive bill for homelessness."

But what tends to get forgotten is that, even though they are popular, the benefits cap and other reforms will cause real hardship to a large number of families.

When they were launched they were billed as an incentive to work and a way of discouraging welfare dependency. But since then the economic climate has deteriorated significantly. Unemployment now stands at 2.6 million and is rising.

Using welfare reform to encourage people to get off benefits and into work is one thing. But what if there are no jobs to go to?

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