George Osborne sparked controversy yesterday, announcing that a Conservative Government elected in 2015 would freeze benefits and tax credits for 10m households, declining to target the rich. The Chancellor told the applauding room at the Conservative Party conference the benefit freeze would make a “serious contribution” to eliminating the deficit over the next Parliament. It would see child benefit, tax credits, jobseeker’s allowance, housing benefit and income support frozen for two years from April 2016.
The announcement has been attacked by anti-poverty groups, who point out this new cut would put further pressure on working families and some of the poorest in society, who have already been disproportionately hit by the recession and public spending cuts.
The proposal has also been disowned by the Liberal Democrats, with one Lib Dem source telling The Independent: “It speaks volumes about the priorities of the Conservatives that they see benefit cuts for the working-age poor as a crowd-pleasing punchline for a conference speech.”
Shadow Chief Treasury Secretary Chris Leslie said: “Labour will balance the books as soon as possible in the next Parliament, but we will do so in a fairer way. We will reverse the Tory tax cut for millionaires, stop paying the winter fuel allowance for the richest 5 per cent of pensioners and cap child benefit rises at 1 per cent for two years.”
Osborne’s move would exempt pensioners from welfare cuts, though critics said this was because they are more likely to vote than any other age group.