How the Lib Dems broke their promise to block new welfare cuts

The party vowed to block further welfare cuts but the seven-day wait for benefits amounts to a £245m cut.

Before the Spending Review, the Lib Dems repeatedly stated that they would accept no further cuts to welfare. Danny Alexander said in February 2013: 

We've got no plans at all to go back to the welfare budget as part of that process [the Spending Review]. What I'm focused on is finding that £10 billion or so from within the spending the government departments do.

I've got no plans to reopen the welfare issue. We agreed significant measures in the autumn and we're legislating for those at the moment. The balance has to be found from departmental budgets. Everyone's got to play their part.

More recently, Nick Clegg said that he was prepared to consider new cuts but only if George Osborne began by removing benefits, such as Winter Fuel Payments and free bus passes, from wealthy pensioners. "I believe that if you’re going to reopen welfare, it’s only fair to work at the top and work down, not start at the bottom and work up," he said

When Osborne and Cameron responded by reaffirming the Tories' 2010 pledge to protect all pensioner benefits, it appeared welfare spending was off the table. The Chancellor had already taken £21.6bn from the mostly poor and would take no more. 

But when he addressed the Commons yesterday, Osborne did announce further benefit cuts - and he started at the bottom. The new seven-day wait before the unemployed can claim benefits will reduce spending by £245m in 2015-16 (and £765m by 2018). Though some may seek to present it as a "reform", it is a cut. The money that claimants lose from having to wait a week for their benefits (which will force thousands more to turn to food banks) will not be backdated; it has gone for good. The introduction of tougher interview requirements is also expected to reduce spending (by £120m in 2015-16), presumably since those who fail to turn up (often with good reason) will be sanctioned.

It's true that Osborne also announced plans to remove Winter Fuel Payments from pensioners who live in hot countries (defined as those with "an average winter temperature higher than the warmest region of the UK") but this hardly qualifies as a significant reduction; it will save just £30m a year. 

Clegg insisted he would only accept new welfare cuts if the majority of savings came from the wealthy, but, once again, it's the poorest who've been hit. 

Danny Alexander and Nick Clegg at last year's Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Ben Stansall / Getty Images
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#RedWhiteandBlueBrexit: How do you like your EU negotiations?

Twitter users have responded to the prime minister's statement that she wants a multi-coloured Brexit.

Earlier today, Theresa May spoke from Bahrain to the BBC’s deputy political editor John Pienaar, about the type of Brexit deal she is looking to make. The most we've heard from the prime minister so far on this most significant of consitutional issues is the much repeated "Brexit means Brexit." Yet now it seems May has a new catchphrase — what she is really looking for is a "red, white and blue Brexit".

The remark was a response to the suggestion that the chancellor Philip Hammond and the Brexit secretary, David Davis favour a so-called "grey Brexit" which would involve the UK exiting the single market while retaining Canada-style access to parts of the free trade zone, and limits on immigration apart for skilled migrants in specific sectors. This is the mid-range option between a "white Brexit", which would see the UK attempt to remain in the single market, and a "black Brexit" which would see the UK exit the EU without a viable future deal.

May told reporters: “I’m interested in all these terms that have been identified – hard Brexit, soft Brexit, black Brexit, white Brexit, grey Brexit – and actually what we should be looking for is a red, white and blue Brexit.” 

The people of Twitter, as always, have responded to the prime minister's possibly ill-advised attempt to inject some patriotic colour into the debate with suggestions for the type of Brexit they would like to see.

Some Twitter users were just clowning around.

 

Some would like to see a festive Brexit.

 

While others would like to sweeten the deal.


Some are auditioning for the Great British Brexit Bake Off.


And some are just staring at Twitter in confusion.