Poor to bear brunt of welfare cap passed in Commons vote
David Miliband leads Labour's attack on 'rancid' bill capping benefits at 1% - but it passes by 56 votes
THE GOVERNMENT'S plan to cap rises in working-age benefits to one per cent over three years was condemned variously as "rancid", "mean" and "a tax on strivers" last night as the controversial bill was passed by a majority of 56 in the House of Commons. It now goes to the committee stage before a Third Reading.
Labour's David Miliband led the charge against the welfare bill which the government says will save £3.1 billion by 2016 by keeping rises in benefits such as rent rebates and disability allowances well below the rate of inflation.
Delivering what the Daily Telegraph called "a rare speech" since stepping back from front bench politics after losing the Labour leadership race to his brother, Ed, Miliband made an impassioned plea to MPs to vote against the "rancid" benefits bill. He said there was no "equality of sacrifice" about the measures and accused the government of playing divisive politics by demonising recipients of welfare.
Works and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith hit back by accusing Labour of wanting to spend taxpayer's money "like drunks on a Friday night".
Miliband's accusation that the UK's poorest households will bear the brunt of the welfare changes was supported by a Whitehall assessment "rushed out" just before yesterday's debate, says The Guardian. The report by the Department for Work and Pensions admits that households "further down the income distribution" would suffer the greatest loss.
It was a concern picked up by the charity Oxfam which today tweeted: "Yet again working age benefits, which poor families rely upon, are bearing the brunt of government cuts."
The benefits bill has been praised as clever politics by some commentators because it is popular with the public, but opposed by Labour. That has framed Labour as "the Party for Skiving Fat Slobs" says Benedict Brogan of the Daily Telegraph, because they have been forced to explain why they oppose what appears to be reasonable spending restraint.
But Brogan warns the government against triumphalism and using "divisive rhetoric" to achieve its aims. "Politics sometimes requires going for the kill, but Mr Cameron cannot be certain whether voters will be happy to see Labour's noses being rubbed in it," he writes.
In an editorial, The Guardian says the welfare system needs reforming, but the coalition's "main priority" is to "cut welfare, not reform it". If all of its measures are passed into law, "an historic wedge will have been driven between rich and poor," it says.
The Times praises the coalition for "grasping the nettle" of benefits reform, but wants wider cuts. It says last night's vote did not address "the biggest chunk of the welfare bill: the benefits that go to pensioners". Given the UK's dire financial situation it "cannot be right" to exclude the money paid to the elderly from the debate any longer, the paper says. ·