Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Osborne claims support for reforms

George Osborne said many of his views were 'in tune with what the great majority of the country think and experience in their everyday lives'

George Osborne has insisted the public backs controversial Government benefit reforms and appeared to take a swipe at church leaders and charities who launch wholesale attacks on the plans.

The Chancellor - who came in for criticism after he linked the case of child killer Mick Philpott to welfare - insisted he does not "set out to be divisive". In an interview with John Pienaar on BBC Radio 5 Live, Mr Osborne claimed many of his views were "in tune with what the great majority of the country think and experience in their everyday lives".

Asked about the role of churches and charities in the row over reforms, he told Pienaar's Politics: "Anyone who enters into the welfare debate and tries to defend the status quo and makes no attempt to provide an alternative to the approach we're taking, in other words makes no attempt to say 'look I understand the system is too expensive, the country can't afford it, but instead of doing 'x' you should be doing 'y'', you know I think that's a constructive contribution which I'm perfectly prepared to listen to, but when you just have groups going on the radio, going on the television campaigning against any change, I don't think that is a sensible contribution to the debate."

Last week the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church and the Church of Scotland accused ministers of manipulating figures to vilify the poor. A number of leading charities also published reports heaping pressure on the Government about the impact of tax and welfare reforms.

Mr Osborne was also branded "deeply irresponsible" after he said there was a question about how the welfare state was "subsidising lifestyles" like Philpott's.

Sweeping reforms, including a below-inflation 1% cap on working-age benefits and tax credit rises for three years, have now come into force. Around 660,000 social housing tenants deemed to have a spare room will lose an average £14 a week in what critics have dubbed a "bedroom tax". Trials are also due to begin in four London boroughs of a £500-a-week cap on household benefits.

Labour's deputy leader admitted it was understandable that workers felt "resentful" about benefits claimants that do not want a job as the party attempted to reposition itself on welfare. Harriet Harman said it was "not surprising" that people were concerned about the system but claimed the Government's failure to install a proper work programme was letting some people "off the hook".

The party is working on policy proposals that would mean benefit payments to those out of work or on low incomes would vary according to their past contributions.

Ms Harman told BBC 1's Andrew Marr Show: "The difficulty is for people who are in work, seeing their standard of living pressurised, understandably, they feel very resentful for people who are not working. For people who are looking for a job and can't find a work it's deeply frustrating and then of course the small minority who don't want to work - well they are let off the hook by the fact there isn't a proper work programme."

Ms Harman said the party was working on three principles on welfare ahead of the general election. She added: "One, that work should pay, secondly, there should be obligation to take work and thirdly that there should be support through a contributory principle for people putting into the system as well as taking out."

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