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.

Photo: Getty
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Paul Nuttall is like his party: sad, desperate and finished

The party hope if they can survive until March 2019, they will grow strong off disillusionment with Brexit. They may not make it until then. 

It’s a measure of how far Ukip have fallen that while Theresa May faced a grilling over her social care U-Turn and Jeremy Corbyn was called to account over his past, the opening sections of Andrew Neill’s interview with Paul Nuttall was about the question of whether or not his party has a future.

The blunt truth is that Ukip faces a battering in this election. They will be blown away in the seats they have put up a candidate in and have pre-emptively retreated from numerous contests across the country.

A party whose leader in Wales once said that climate change was “ridiculous” is now the victim of climate change itself. With Britain heading out of the European Union and Theresa May in Downing Street, it’s difficult to work out what the pressing question in public life to which Ukip is the answer.

Their quest for relevance isn’t helped by Paul Nuttall, who at times tonight cast an unwittingly comic figure. Pressing his case for Ukip’s burka ban, he said earnestly: “For [CCTV] to work, you have to see people’s faces.” It was if he had intended to pick up Nigel Farage’s old dogwhistle and instead put a kazoo to his lips.

Remarks that are, written down, offensive, just carried a stench of desperation. Nuttall’s policy prescriptions – a noun, a verb, and the most rancid comment underneath a Mail article – came across as a cry for attention. Small wonder that senior figures in Ukip expect Nuttall to face a move on his position, though they also expect that he will see off any attempt to remove him from his crown.

But despite his poor performance, Ukip might not be dead yet. There was a gleam of strategy amid the froth from Nuttall in the party’s pledge to oppose any continuing payment to Brussels as part of the Brexit deal, something that May and Corbyn have yet to rule out.

If May does manage to make it back to Downing Street on 8 June, the gap between campaign rhetoric – we’ll have the best Brexit, France will pay for it – and government policy – we’ll pay a one-off bill and continuing contributions if need be – will be fertile territory for Ukip, if they can survive as a going concern politically and financially, until March 2019.

On tonight’s performance, they’ll need a better centre-forward than Paul Nuttall if they are to make it that far. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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