The director of a Welsh think tank has accused David Cameron of targeting youngsters on benefits while failing to tackle millionaire tax dodgers.
The Prime Minister yesterday told an audience in Kent he wants to strip housing benefit from the under-25s to force them to live with their parents.
And the Tory leader is also keen to break the link between benefits and inflation, remove the right for high-earners to keep their council homes and reduce the £20,000-a-year cap on housing support. Further the Prime Minister mooted a time-limit for unemployment benefit and restricting help for mothers who have large numbers of children.
But Dr Victoria Winckler, director of left wing think tank the Bevan Foundation, believes Mr Cameron is trying to deflect attention away from the Government’s record on tackling tax avoidance. She said: “The timing of this is very interesting. It comes right at the time when there’s been a lot of debate about tax avoidance and who pays what.
“A cynic might say this is an attempt to deflect attention (away from the debate about tax avoidance). I’m not aware that he has done anything to try to tackle the bigger question about tax avoidance.” Though the Prime Minister attacked comedian Jimmy Carr for investing in a legitimate tax avoidance scheme, businessman George Robinson and Take That frontman Gary Barlow, both Tories, are also said to have been involved in similar schemes. Neither has come in for a similar tongue lashing from the Prime Minister.
Meanwhile Dr Winckler said some Welsh under-25s would be trapped in poverty without housing benefit. She said: “For people who might previously have moved away to take up a relatively low-paid job to get their foot on the ladder, and relied on housing benefit to help with their housing costs, that won’t apply anymore.” Mr Cameron said the nation has created a welfare gap between “those living long-term in the welfare system and those outside it”. He said: “Those within it grow up with a series of expectations: you can have a home of your own, the state will support you whatever decisions you make, you will always be able to take out no matter what you put in.”
Dr Winckler said the Prime Minister’s focus on the young, the long-term unemployed and mothers on benefits is misleading as most welfare spending is on pensions. Around two thirds or £96.6bn out of the total spend of £147.6bn in 2009/10 went on pensions. Further, about half of everyone who claims benefits is in work. Dr Winckler, of the Blaenau Gwent based charity, said this would include people with high rents or council tax and low incomes – some teachers in London find they are entitled to housing benefit because of the high cost of rents there. Also Dr Winckler said the idea of huge numbers of the unemployed opting for a lifestyle on benefits is an exaggeration – only 1% of people on Jobseeker’s Allowance claim for longer than a year.
A much higher proportion (80%) have been claiming Incapacity Benefit or Employment and Support Allowance for more than 12 months, but this is aimed at those too sick to work. Mr Cameron suggested it’s wrong that the young unemployed can be set up in council houses at the taxpayer’s expense while many of those saving to buy their first home are forced to live with their parents. However he recognised that stripping housing benefit from under-25s leaving foster care, or with a ‘terrible, destructive home life’ would be wrong.
But Martin Blakebrough, the director of South Wales drink and drug abuse charity Kaleidoscope, questioned the practicalities of prying into people’s personal lives to establish if their needs were genuine. He said: “Do they literally have to suffer abuse or do their parents have to have at least one anti-social behaviour order (ASBO) against them? “There would have to be some ticking of a box or some regulation and David Cameron is not giving us what that measure is.” The Prime Minister indicated most of his plans would be taken forward by a Tory government in the next parliament.