Prime Minister David Cameron’s government faced a growing row yesterday over plans to cut welfare payments for low-income workers on the eve of a highly sensitive vote in parliament.
Finance Minister George Osborne, a possible successor to Cameron and his de facto deputy, wants to cut tax credits as part of £12bn in welfare cuts to help reduce Britain’s deficit.
Opponents and many in Cameron and Osborne’s centre-right Conservative party argue that the move is unfair and will hurt several million families.
The House of Lords will hold a series of votes on the issue today in which the government could face defeat after peers tabled motions to try and stop the cuts.
Encapsulating the often emotional nature of the debate, an angry female Conservative supporter cried on a primetime BBC talk show this month as she confronted a government minister about the impact the cuts would have on her.
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, an Osborne ally, suggested to the BBC Sunday that there could be some changes to the policy as media reports suggested the government could U-turn on the issue in a budget statement in November.
Morgan said Osborne was “in listening mode” but added: “The policy is not going to change... not the main policy”.
John McDonnell, finance spokesman for the main opposition Labour party who is close to its leftist leader Jeremy Corbyn, told the BBC it would “not make political capital” out of any change.
Labour says that the government’s current proposals would cost people an average of £1,300 a year.
Osborne argues that the existing system of tax credits - in which the state tops up the incomes of people on low salaries - is too expensive, costing £30bn a year.
He has pledged a new “national living wage” of £9 an hour by 2020 and is lifting income tax thresholds to try and boost incomes.
“What are the alternatives to trimming an unsustainable welfare bill? We would have to borrow more money we don’t have and burden our children with still higher debt,” the finance minister wrote in a Daily Telegraph article this month.
London Mayor Boris Johnson, another contender to replace Cameron as Conservative leader, has been among the critics of Osborne’s plan.
And 63 members of the House of Lords including two former archbishops of Canterbury wrote to the Observer newspaper yesterday calling for a change of tack.
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