Duncan Smith hints at cut in the benefit cap

Work and Pensions Secretary says "we will keep the policy under review" when asked whether the cap could be reduced from £26,000.

One of the welfare cuts that George Osborne is most likely to make if the Tories win the next election is a reduction in the household benefit cap of £26,000. Conservative MPs regularly complain that their constituents regard the cap (the equivalent of a pre-tax income of £35,000) as too high and would like to see it significantly reduced. The most recent YouGov poll found that 76% of the public support a cap of £26,000 and that 49% favour one of £15,000. Asked by Tory MP Andrew Bridgen at Work and Pensions questions whether the benefit cap would be reduced, Iain Duncan Smith replied: "we will keep the policy under review", a clear hint that the government is considering a cut. 

While the cap might appear generous, it's important to remember that those households who receive £26,000 do so due to high rents and/or an above average number of children; the government's Impact Assessment found that 52% of those families affected have four or more children.

The premise on which the policy is based - that an out-of-work household should never receive more in benefits than the average household receives from going out to work - is a false one since it takes no account of the benefits that an in-work family can claim to increase their income. For instance, a couple with four children earning £26,000 after tax and with rent and council tax liabilities of £400 a week is entitled to around £15,000 a year in housing benefit and council tax support, £3,146 in child benefit and more than £4,000 in tax credits. Were the cap based on the average income (as opposed to average earnings) of a working family, it would be set at the significantly higher level of £31,500. But don't expect ministers to mention any of this. 

Elsewhere during the session, Duncan Smith replied to a question on Benefits Street from Tory MP Philip Davies (who complained of claimants who "combine complaining about welfare reforms whilst being able to afford to buy copious amounts of cigarettes, have lots of tattoos done and watch Sky TV on the obligatory widescreen television") by stating: "He's right. Many people are shocked by what they see. But the reality is that is why the public backs our welfare reform package to get more people back to work, to end these abuses, and all of these abuses date back to what the last government left, with massive spending and trapping people in benefit dependency."

Iain Duncan Smith speaks at the Conservative conference in Manchester last year. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Donald Trump vs Barack Obama: How the inauguration speeches compared

We compared the two presidents on trade, foreign affairs and climate change – so you (really, really) don't have to.

After watching Donald Trump's inaugural address, what better way to get rid of the last few dregs of hope than by comparing what he said with Barack Obama's address from 2009? 

Both thanked the previous President, with Trump calling the Obamas "magnificent", and pledged to reform Washington, but the comparison ended there. 

Here is what each of them said: 

On American jobs

Obama:

The state of our economy calls for action, bold and swift.  And we will act, not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth.  We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.  We'll restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost.  We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.  And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.

Trump:

For many decades we've enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry, subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military.

One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind.

Obama had a plan for growth. Trump just blames the rest of the world...

On global warming

Obama:

With old friends and former foes, we'll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet.

Trump:

On the Middle East:

Obama:

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. 

Trump:

We will re-enforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.

On “greatness”

Obama:

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned.

Trump:

America will start winning again, winning like never before.

 

On trade

Obama:

This is the journey we continue today.  We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth.  Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began.  Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week, or last month, or last year.  Our capacity remains undiminished.  

Trump:

We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our product, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.

Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. I will fight for you with every breath in my body, and I will never ever let you down.

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland