Cuts too far
George Osborne’s much anticipated announcement to Conservative Party conference of a further £10 billion of cuts to the social security bill is no great surprise, although it’s no doubt a great crowd-pleaser at conference. Trailed several months ago, the main news is not so much about yet more cuts to benefits but that the Treasury has clearly won over the Department for Work and Pensions: Osborne 1 – IDS 0.
The targets of the benefits cuts are also no surprise – young unemployed people’s help with housing costs, the children of workless families and lower-than-inflation benefit up-rating. The only surprise is that disabled people seem to have escaped this round of cuts – perhaps the boos at the paralympics hit home.
The great problem with crowd-pleasing waving of the financial axe is that sometimes the cuts have unintended consequences.
Are children who’ve been abused by their parents expected to live with them until they’re 25?
What about parents who aren’t able to take in their errant 22-year old – perhaps they’ve downsized to a one-bedroom home as the new housing benefit rules require?
If those under 25s are married or are parents themselves, what then? Do their parents have to take in a whole family?
Is a woman becoming pregnant after her parter’s lost his job going to have to have an abortion because no benefit will be paid to feed any more children?
And so on. Suddenly what sounds like tough action against the feckless hordes begins to look unworkable. All the Chancellor’s thinking is based on a model of families that simply hardly exists.
There are already massive concerns about whether Universal Credit, which relies on a new government computer system and the transfer of highly-sensitive personal information between government departments, can deliver. Even the intelligence services are said to be concerned.
Popular at conference though the announcement will surely be, these cuts may yet come back to haunt Osborne.
Victoria Winckler is Director of the Bevan Foundation, follow her on Twitter @vwinckler
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