David Cameron has never particularly warmed to the language of compassionate conservatism. In the past, that side of the conservatism has generally been represented by Iain Duncan Smith — with help from the Centre for Social Justice, the think tank he founded. But in light of the rapidly approaching £12 billion of cuts in welfare spending, the Prime Minister will give a speech today outlining why it is important to end the ‘merry-go-round’ of benefits:
‘When it comes to extending opportunity – there is a right track and a wrong track. The right track is to recognise the causes of stalled social mobility and a lack of economic opportunity. Family breakdown. Debt. Addiction. Poor schools. Lack of skills. Unemployment. People capable of work, written off to a lifetime on benefits. Recognise those causes, and the solutions follow. Strong families that give children the best start in life. A great education system that helps everyone get on. A welfare system that encourages work – well paid work.’
Cameron will also take on the issue of tax credits and the problems they have created with low pay:
‘Take for example the complacency in how we approach the crucial issue of low pay. There is what I would call a merry-go-round. People working on the minimum wage having that money taxed by the government and then the government giving them that money back – and more – in welfare. Again, it’s dealing with the symptoms of the problem – topping up low pay rather than extending the drivers of opportunity – helping to create well paid jobs in the first place.’
Cameron would argue that such ideas have always been close to his heart, but this speech is an example of an area he has never had to deal with before. The necessary pragmatism that came with coalition has gone, along with the Liberal Democrats, so the Tories have no one else to shoulder the blame or water down their proposals.
The £12 billion in welfare cuts were expected to be bartered away in coalition negotiations but we learnt yesterday that George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith have agreed where spending will be slashed. The benefits cap will be lowered, as expected, and in-work benefits will be cut.
Many of opponents of austerity, such as the tens of thousands who marched through London at the weekend, will never believe that the Tories are anything more than evil ideologues. Cameron has an opportunity to prove them wrong. There is a broad consensus that welfare needs reforming and the Tories have the opportunity to show they are doing it for the right reasons.