The Liberal Democrats are playing a game of whac-a-mole on welfare at the moment: each time they think they’ve blocked one cut they don’t like, another one pops up. Last night a mole they’d already whacked a year ago appeared again: decoupling benefits from inflation.
The Newsnight scoop is that Whitehall is considering ending inflation-linked rises for many benefit payments – although the word is that this would not include payments to those with disabilities. This would be part of efforts to cut a further £10 billion from the welfare bill, which the Lib Dems oppose overall.
Last winter the Lib Dems blocked a similar move from the Treasury, which had proposed uncoupling benefits from the inflation rate, which was 5.2 per cent for that September. Today party sources tell me that the autumn statement is ‘a long way off’, adding ‘we’ve made our position clear in the past’.
Either way, this is a key issue of differentiation for the parties as they approach their respective conferences. Next week in Brighton, Lib Dems can talk tough about the cuts they are blocking the nasty Tories from enacting. And a fortnight later, David Cameron and colleagues can point out to their party in Birmingham that they are trying to bring benefits into line with the conditions of ‘ordinary working people’.