The Welfare Uprating Bill won’t fall into difficulty when it has its second reading in the Commons today, but with around five Lib Dem MPs expected to vote against or abstain on the 1 per cent rise in benefit payments, it’s going to be a lively debate. The Conservatives are focused on making the debate less about Sarah Teather and other angry colleagues in her party and more about Labour’s welfare stance.
Grant Shapps has a new, bald poster campaign today on six sites in London.
Shapps’ new posters simply read: ‘Today Labour are voting to increase benefits by more than workers’ wages. Conservatives: standing up for hardworking people.’ Iain Duncan Smith has taken the same line on his morning tour of the television and radio studios. The Work and Pensions Secretary insisted that benefit rises must be compared to incomes, telling Sky News:
‘In actual fact, directly as a result of this Bill, the savings will be in something in the order of about £1.9bn. What Labour are doing yet again today, as they’ve done for the last two years – on universal credit, they opposed that; on the cap on anyone getting more than average earnings, they opposed that; on the housing benefit changes which blew up under them, doubled in size in ten years, they opposed that; they opposed absolutely everything that we have brought forward.
‘This is a shambles of a Labour opposition, it is a pathetic, opportunistic group who spend their time trying to pretend to people there are soft options out there. No one said this would easy. It is very difficult. We are in very difficult economic times, left to us by Labour with a collapsed economy when they left office in 2010. Actually, I would think that they would apologise for the mess that they left us in.’
The polling on this issue is closer than you might expect. YouGov’s poll for the Sunday Times this weekend found 45 per cent of voters back the 1 per cent limit, while 35 per cent do not. But Labour is currently more trusted than the Tories on the issue of welfare, by 30 to 22 per cent. Then again, 47 per cent don’t believe the government is being sufficiently tough to those on benefits and that ‘more should be done to force them into work’. It is for this reason that both parties are so keen to take ownership of the ‘strivers’ at the centre of this battle: Shapps has his ‘hardworking people’ posters, and Ed Miliband has been repeating his ‘tax on strivers’ image again this morning.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.