Osborne promises £12bn more welfare cuts - where will his axe fall?

Expect big cuts in housing benefit, the removal of child benefit from out-of-work families with more than two children, and a reduction in the benefit cap.

A few weeks before Christmas, George Osborne told the Treasury select committee of his intention to cut "billions" more from the welfare budget if the Tories are in government after the next election, but refused to "put a number on it". Today, in his first speech of the year, he gave us that number, revealing that his department has forecast that "£12bn of further welfare cuts are needed in the first two years of next Parliament." He added: 

That’s how to reduce the deficit without even faster cuts to government departments, or big tax rises on people.

So when you see people on the telly who say that welfare can’t be cut anymore - or, even worse, promising they will reverse the changes we’ve already made and increase housing benefit - ask yourself this:

what public services would they would cut instead?

what taxes they would put up in their place?

or would they borrow and spend more, and risk our country’s economic stability again?

This is what I mean when I say Britain has a choice.

The truth is there are no easy options here, and if we are to fix our country’s problems, and not leave our debts to our children to pay off, then cutting the welfare bill further is the kind of decision we need to make.

This is a clear challenge by Osborne to Labour, which has so far proposed no welfare cuts other than the removal of Winter Fuel Payments from the wealthiest 5% of pensioners (which would raise just £100m).

But aside from the political gamesmanship, it's worth asking how the Chancellor will save the sums he's promised. In his interview on the Today programme this morning, Osborne offered the example of removing housing benefit from under-25s but failed to go further. But to get some idea of where else Osborne's axe will fall, the best source is the speech David Cameron made on welfare in June 2012 when he detailed a series of potential cuts. These included: 

  • The restriction of child-related benefits for families with more than two children.
  • A lower rate of benefits for the under-21s.
  • Preventing school leavers from claiming benefits.
  • Paying benefits in kind (like free school meals), rather than in cash.
  • Reducing benefit levels for the long-term unemployed. Cameron said: "Instead of US-style time-limits – which remove entitlements altogether – we could perhaps revise the levels of benefits people receive if they are out of work for literally years on end".
  • A lower housing benefit cap. Cameron said that the current limit of £20,000 was still too high.
  • The abolition of the "non-dependent deduction". Those who have an adult child living with them would lose up to £74 a week in housing benefit.

To this list we can likely add a reduction in the household benefit cap of £26,000 (Osborne said last month that "future governments could change the level" and that it would "continue to be a subject of fierce debate") and, perhaps, the withdrawal of universal benefits, such as Winter Fuel Payments, free TV licences and free bus passes, from wealthy pensioners. While Osborne dismissively remarked today that reductions in this area would save only "tens of millions" (that, of course, would depend on the degree of means-testing), it is telling that he and Cameron are being careful to avoid repeating their 2010 pledge to ring-fence the benefits. 

Update: Here's Ed Balls's response to the speech: 

George Osborne is desperate to stop talking about the cost-of-living crisis on his watch. But that won't stop working people from doing so as they are on average £1600 a year worse off under the Tories and prices are still rising faster than wages.  

Nor will the Chancellor admit the reason why he is being forced to make more cuts is because his failure on growth and living standards has led to his failure to balance the books by 2015.

This failure means Labour will have to make cuts and in 2015/16 there will be no more borrowing for day-to-day spending. But we will get the deficit down in a fair way, not give tax cuts to millionaires. And we know that the way to mitigate the scale of the cuts needed is to earn and grow our way to higher living standards for all.

The social security bill is rising under George Osborne, but the best way to get it down for the long-term is to get people into work and build more homes. The Tories should back our compulsory jobs guarantee for young people and the long-term unemployed. And in tough times it cannot be a priority to continue paying the winter fuel allowance to the richest five per cent of pensioners.

What we need is Labour's plan to earn our way to higher living standards for all, tackle the cost-of-living crisis and get the deficit down in a fairer way.

Members of the public in north London walk past a poster informing of changes to the benefits and tax system. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Westminster terror: Parliament hit by deadly attack

The Met Police is treating the events in Westminster as a "terrorist incident". 

A terrorist attack outside Parliament in Westminster has left four dead, plus the attacker, and injured at least 40 others. 

Police shot dead a man who attacked officers in front of the parliament building in London, after a grey 4x4 mowed down more than a dozen people on Westminster Bridge.

At least two people died on the bridge, and a number of others were seriously hurt, according to the BBC. The victims are understood to include a group of French teenagers. 

Journalists at the scene saw a police officer being stabbed outside Parliament, who was later confirmed to have died. His name was confirmed late on Wednesday night as Keith Palmer, 48.

The assailant was shot by other officers, and is also dead. The Met Police confirmed they are treating the events as a "terrorist incident". There was one assailant, whose identity is known to the police but has not yet been released. 

Theresa May gave a statement outside Number 10 after chairing a COBRA committee. "The terrorists chose to strike at the heart of our Capital City, where people of all nationalities, religions and cultures come together to celebrate the values of liberty, democracy and freedom of speech," she said.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has tweeted his thanks for the "tremendous bravery" of the emergency services. 

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also released a short statement. He said: "Reports suggest the ongoing incident in Westminster this afternoon is extremely serious. Our thoughts are with the victims of this horrific attack, their families and friends. The police and security staff have taken swift action to ensure the safety of the public, MPs and staff, and we are grateful to them."

After the incident this afternoon, journalists shared footage of injured people in the street, and pictures of a car which crashed into the railings outside Big Ben. After the shots rang out, Parliament was placed under lockdown, with the main rooms including the Commons Chamber and the tearoom sealed off. The streets around Parliament were also cordoned off and Westminster Tube station was closed. 

Those caught up in the incident include visitors to Parliament, such as schoolchildren, who spent the afternoon trapped alongside politicians and political journalists. Hours after the incident, the security services began evacuating MPs and others trapped inside Parliament in small groups. 

The MP Richard Benyon tweeted: "We are locked in Chamber of House of Commons." Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner tweeted: "I'm inside Parliament and me and my staff are safe."

The MP Jo Stevens was one of the first to confirm reports that a police officer had been attacked. She tweeted: "We've just been told a police officer here has been stabbed & the assailant shot."

George Eaton, the New Statesman politics editor, was in the building. He has written about his experience here:

From the window of the parliamentary Press Gallery, I have just seen police shoot a man who charged at officers while carrying what appeared to be a knife. A large crowd was seen fleeing the man before he entered the parliamentary estate. After several officers evaded him he was swiftly shot by armed police. Ministers have been evacuated and journalists ordered to remain at their desks.   

According to The Telegraph, foreign minister Tobias Ellwood, a former soldier, tried to resucitate the police officer who later died. Meanwhile another MP, Mary Creagh, who was going into Westminster to vote, managed to persuade the Westminster tube staff to shut down the station and prevent tourists from wandering on to the scene of the attack. 

A helicopter, ambulances and paramedics soon crowded the scene. There were reports of many badly injured victims. However, one woman was pulled from the River Thames alive.

MPs trapped inside the building shared messages of sympathy for the victims on Westminster Bridge, and in defence of democracy. The Labour MP Jon Trickett has tweeted that "democracy will not be intimidated". MPs in the Chamber stood up to witness the removal of the mace, the symbol of Parliamentary democracy, which symbolises that Parliament is adjourned. 

Brendan Cox, the widower of the late, murdered MP Jo Cox, has tweeted: "Whoever has attacked our parliament for whatever motive will not succeed in dividing us. All of my thoughts with those injured."

Hillary Benn, the Labour MP, has released a video from inside Parliament conveying a message from MPs to the families of the victims.

Former Prime Minister David Cameron has also expressed his sympathy. 

While many MPs praised the security services, they also seemed stunned by the surreal scenes inside Parliament, where counter-terrorism police led evacuations. 

Those trapped inside Parliament included 40 children visiting on a school trip, and a group of boxers, according to the Press Association's Laura Harding. The teachers tried to distract the children by leading them in song and giving them lessons about Parliament. 

In Scotland, the debate over whether to have a second independence referendum initially continued, despite the news, amid bolstered security. After pressure from Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, the session was later suspended. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted that her "thoughts are with everyone in and around Westminster". The Welsh Assembly also suspended proceedings. 

A spokesman for New Scotland Yard, the police headquarters, said: "There is an ongoing investigation led by the counter-terrorism command and we would ask anybody who has images or film of the incident to pass it onto police. We know there are a number of casualties, including police officers, but at this stage we cannot confirm numbers or the nature of these injuries."

Three students from a high school from Concarneau, Britanny, were among the people hurt on the bridge, according to French local newspaper Le Telegramme (translated by my colleague Pauline). They were walking when the car hit them, and are understood to be in a critical condition. 

The French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has also tweeted his solidarity with the UK and the victims, saying: "Solidarity with our British friends, terribly hit, our full support to the French high schoolers who are hurt, to their families and schoolmates."

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.