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Lib Dem conference: Oakeshott calls for Cameron to take one for the team on universal benefits

25 September 2012

Nick Clegg’s attack on universal benefits such as the winter fuel payment and free bus passes this afternoon was a nice little morsel of red meat to his party, as he said it would be ‘difficult to explain’ a failure to reform these payments when other benefits are being slashed. He told the World at One:

‘My own view is for the future that it would be very difficult to explain – and it would be quite interesting if you could ask the Labour party for this, because they appear to be saying that at a time when people’s housing benefit is being cut, we should protect Alan Sugar’s free bus pass.’

But I’ve just had a chat with Lord Oakeshott, who is impatient that the Lib Dems should be looking at this sort of thing while they are in government rather than discussing their next manifesto. He asks ‘why aren’t we fighting for it now?’ He also thinks that the time has come for David Cameron to have a totemic tuition fees-style moment and start cutting into those universal benefits right away:

‘I’ve been raising these questions about winter fuel payments going to people who don’t need them, whether they are sipping Sangria in the sun in Seville or people like me in their 60s with good jobs: why at least should these not be taxed? Nick has bravely taken hits for the coalition team on tuition fees and the NHS, for example, why on earth can’t David Cameron at least accept that if we’re all in it together, rich pensioners in good jobs should take the hit too? Why aren’t we fighting for fairness on well-off pensioners’ perks now rather than waiting for 2015?’

This would involve Cameron U-turning on the read-my-lips moment when he promised the coalition would safeguard these payments before the 2010 election. It depends whether Clegg fancies a fight or not on this, but Oakeshott is clearly keen for a scrap and suspects there is some traction on this. For the longer-term, the party will start appointing the MP to lead its 2015 manifesto writing in the next few months, and I suspect that another attempt to reform the payment will be at least considered. I reported a few months back that Ed Davey was considering paying the benefit as a lump sum to enable claimants to insulate their leaky homes, rather than much of the current money escaping out of poorly insulated lofts and windows.

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Show comments
  • mary

    lapdog challenge could see where this was a cue for eeeeerrrr this is where it gets whacky and endless half asleep scanning for that eeeeeerrrrrrr dunno but sure i see it eeeeerrrrrr cue god woman your insane mixed in with really wacky stuff dishevelled weirdo hint but i sure it would be worth it reason for strange goings on and wowwww wierd

  • Dimoto

    Very bad idea – “chatting with Oakeshott”, that is.
    Why are journalists so fascinated by this verbose, attention-seeking, nonentity ?
    Easy copy is it ?
    Oakeshott wants Cameron to commit LibDem-style suicide. Is that really worth a blog-post ?

    • Fergus Pickering

      Quite right. Oakeshott is a pleb, or should I say a fucking p***

  • anne wotana kaye 1

    Do Nick Clegg and his wife, Miriam, claim Child Benefits?

    • roadrunner

      Also what tax do they pay not much me thinks.

  • 2trueblue

    We all have a tax code, so why is it so difficult to sort it out?

  • Noa

    Better still, abolish all non contributory benefits and replace cash welfare benefits with food and clothing stamps.
    The result, a well fed but healthy,non smoking, drug using and drinking shrinking in numbers as they acquire paid work. A much smaller and more focused welfare budget helping those in real need.

    • Kev

      What about people who claim benefit for a short period of time where their circumstances have changed such as being made redundant. How embarrassing would it be to go shopping with welfare stamps. The welfare system is always being attacked and the people who claim it. You have tabloids labelling people as scroungers, drug addicts or lazy but yet we have people earning large wages getting universal benefits, so is this greed? Well if they are entitled to it then why cant an individual who needs welfare for genuine reasons because they live in poverty, cannot find work or live in an area where opportunities are lacking be criticised for being on welfare. It is usually people who have never experienced poverty or never needed welfare that have comments about stopping benefits or providing food stamps. Society needs to accept that poverty exists in 21st century Britain and support is needed.

      • Noa

        Read my words.

        I wrote “…abolish all non contributory benefits…”

        In other words, you can get out what you put in.

        The rest is welfare. As I wrote ‘…A much smaller and more focused welfare budget helping those in real need…”

        UK Poverty? The elderly excepted, it does exist in any meaningful way.

        Real poverty is not having food or shelter. Life threatening poverty, of the sort found in a white Rhodesian, or UK council, rest home. Poverty in the UK is the poverty of affluence.
        For the inter-generational unemployed it is being worried about whether you remember to get your methadone fix from the rehab clinic before reviewing, stockbroker like, your welfare and child benefits level with your poverty advisors.
        For the third world arriviste it is ensuring the ‘wives’ and offspring are optimally supported at the host country’s expense, property duly acquired and a sum sufficient to build a mansion back in the homeland is regularly remitted.

        And how would you know what I have or have not experienced. A damn sight more than a pontificating moralist like you I’ll be bound.

  • Tarka the Humbugspotter

    If wealthy folk are nor going to be able to get benefits, then surely they should not be forced to pay into the pot in the first place…doesn’t seem fair, does it?

  • TomTom

    Why not simply introduce tuition fees for State Schools and cut taxes ? They could have a sliding scale means-test for fees as they did pre-war.

    • telemachus

      We cannot leave decisions to parents many of whom are addicted to Bet 365 and guiness

  • Stiffit

    Winter Fuel Allowance is easily bought out.

    Add the necessary few hundred to the taxable State Pension and claw it back from the well-off via Income Tax. Reduces complexity and allows one to abolish the whole expensive bureaucracy devoted to managing eligibility and payment of the Winter Fuel Allowance.

    What is truly horrifying about the present benefits system is the amount of effort devoted to organising the interaction of Taxes and Benefits in order to achieve net changes of a few pounds a week in household income.

    • TomTom

      State Pension is NOT taxable which is why the Personal Allowance and Age Allowance are set as they are ! Doh !

      • hexton

        Pardon? Compare: a 65-year-old with no State pension and £10,500 taxable income…. no tax due; another with State pension £5,587 and other taxable income £10,500… tax due £1,117.40 (assuming the ‘other income’ is not dividends). Granted, the State pension itself is within the age allowance, so no tax on that in isolation: but is not its mere presence pushing £5,587 of the other income into the basic rate tax band?

        Far be it from me to teach any grandmother to suck eggs, but the phrases ‘not taxable’ – implying tax-exempt – and ‘taxable but no tax due’ are by no means the same.

      • 2trueblue

        Everyone has a tax code.

        • Fergus Pickering

          Wrong. The revenue has washed its hands of me. No tax form, no nothing. Bliss.. I think I have Mr Clegg to thank. Or maybe Mr Osborne. I tost them both in gin and tonic. These are the good guys eh? Bring on the mansion tax for rich buggers. Heh heh!

    • telemachus

      No no no
      These flat rate benefits are the most important contribution to welfare of the poor of the whole benefits system
      The thin end of the wedges want the fuel allowance
      Then Child Benefit in total and look where the electorate felt that led

  • John Moss

    He’s right. no welfare for people paying 40% tax seems right, after all, it is what Osborne did with Child Benefit

    • Andy

      Rather we didn’t have Child Benefit at all.

    • TomTom

      How can you have “Welfare” if you are paying 40% Tax ………the largest spend on “Welfare” is the State Pension itself. No doubt you will abolish that now that QE has destroyed Private Pensions ? The largest non-cash “Welfare” is the NHS – going to prevent the old from using that too are you ?

      • 2trueblue

        The elderly get pretty poor treatment from the NHS now.

        • Fergus Pickering

          Nonsense.. I have had excellent treatment. Without these excellent people I would be dead. Stone dead hath no fellow, what?

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