Tuesday, 26 June 2012

"Compassionate Conservatism" was always a hollow phrase. With the welfare state now firmly in Cameron's crosshairs, should we be thankful for the Lib Dems?

Deep in his insalubrious past, The Golden Latrine claimed housing benefit for a period. The shame stills gnaws at his innards on a daily basis.

In a widely trailed speech delivered in Bluewater shopping centre in Kent yesterday, Cameron indulged in a spot of what his former sidekick Steve Hilton would no doubt have referred to as blue sky thinking. It was, he said, "time we asked some serious questions about the signals we send out through the benefits system," which is apparently encouraging a "culture of entitlement". The Golden Latrine would like to point out is in no way ironic coming from an alumni of Heatherdown Preparatory School and Eton, who is heir to a large personal fortune and was apparently given a helping hand into Conservative Central Office by a call from Buckingham Palace.

Among the ideas floated in the speech was a £20,000-a-year cap on housing benefit, a drive to make people on incapacity work harder at not being ill, and my personal favourite, the scraping of 
access to housing benefit for people under 25 - all with the aim of lopping £10bn off the welfare budget.

Tim Leunig from the liberal CentreForum thinktank was quick to debunk Cameron's ideas on scraping housing benefit for under-25s, rightly pointing out that simply building more public housing would reduce the government's housing benefit bill by forcing spiralling rent costs down (and, he might well have added, creating a large number of much-needed construction jobs). The speech did, needless to say, go down a storm with Golden Latrine favourite Melanie Phillips, who hailed Cameron's "important, bold and radical welfare reforms."

However, it should be stressed that this speech wasn't a set of policy directives but rather an attempt to discuss the "principles of debate," as work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith put it, adding: "
The details of these, of course, we have to be careful about. We have to be sensitive to the different reasons people have housing - people coming out of care, being in difficulties in foster care." It was, in other words, a transparent attempt to woo back the Tory hardline (although interestingly, a poll on the Daily Mail showed that a massive majority of their readership were against the under-25s idea - clearly Tories aren't overly enamoured with the idea of having to house their ageing offspring either). Openly admitting that these were ideas for a post-2015 Tory government, what the PM was ultimately saying was: "This is what I would do, folks, if only I didn't have to accommodate those pesky Liberals in the Coalition. Vote for us outright next time."

With Cameron a distant dot in Labour's rear window in the polls, his desire for eye-catching reforms is understandable. But if he really wants to cut costs, he should perhaps look closer to home. According to a report from The Guardian's Patrick Wintour, the Treasury has already accepted that the current creation of Universal Credit (which basically just merges benefits and tax credits into one system) will cost the government money, rather than create savings.

For now these policies remain voter-wooing pipedreams, but if we get a majority Conservative government in 2015, there might well be a large number of graduates moving back home with their parents. 
In a peculiarly nasty article  in the Observer a few weeks back, Barbara Ellen opined that anybody still living with their parents at the age of thirty should "get a life". It might be time for her to take another look at that one. 

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