Clegg backs plans to limit housing benefit for under-25s

Deputy PM contradicts Simon Hughes and says "savings" can be made.

On last night's edition of Question Time, Simon Hughes declared that the Lib Dems were opposed to plans to abolish housing benefit for most under-25s. The party's deputy leader said: "Nick agrees with me on this. We have not signed up to cutting housing benefit for the under-25s and I don't imagine for a moment we will."

But after listening to Clegg's Q&A on Radio 5 Live, it's clear that Nick doesn't agree with him. While the Lib Dem leader said he was opposed to a "complete blanket ban" on under-25s claiming housing benefit, he added that "savings" could be made. In other words, he supports a partial ban, with exceptions made for those leaving care and for "people who've suffered abuse" (in Clegg's words). In his speech on welfare in June, Cameron indicated that there would be exemptions.

Again, I want to stress that a lot of these young people will genuinely need a roof over their head.

Like those leaving foster care, or those with a terrible, destructive home life and we must always be there for them.

Clegg, therefore, is happy with the policy as it stands.

Hughes rightly argued against the proposal on the grounds that it would penalise the 17% of HB claimants who are in employment (indeed, 93% of new claims in 2010-11 were made by in-work households) and the seven per cent who are sick or disabled, but it seems Clegg would have no objection to these groups losing the benefit.

Elsewhere, the Deputy PM repeated his demand that further cuts to welfare (he refused to endorse the figure of £10bn) be balanced by tax increases on the wealthy. "You ask people at the top and then work down, you don’t ask people at the bottom and then work up," he said.

Nick Clegg said "savings" could be made by restricting housing benefit for the under-25s. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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