The Green Party has slammed the Conservatives for waging “war on welfare”, describing planned £12bn in welfare cuts as “kicking people when they are down”.
Green Party Work and Pensions spokesperson, Jonathan Bartley, said the Tories are threatening the future existence of the welfare state and criticised controversial benefit sanctions for making it “harder, not easier, to find a job”.
Mr Bartley added that David Cameron’s hint of an assault on tax credits “would take away a crucial lifeline which enables many people to stay in work”.
Responding to David Cameron’s speech on welfare earlier today, Mr Bartley said: “The Conservative war on welfare is incoherent, misguided and based on ideology rather than reality.
“Welfare is an investment which helps people to build a decent life, not something that ‘papers over the cracks with a veneer of fairness’.
“The social security of millions is being threatened in a way we haven’t seen since the modern welfare state was set up.
“The best way to help people into work is to support them, not kick them when they are down.
“Conservative sanctions are creating barriers and making it harder, not easier, to find a job. These sanctions should be scrapped, not extended to those claiming tax credits.
“Cutting tax credits would take away a crucial lifeline which enables many people to stay in work, while the shambolic new Universal Credit system also has an in-built disincentive to work. For every £100 someone on Universal Credit earns, £65 of support is lost.
“If the government wants to make work pay it should make the minimum wage a Living Wage. Not only would this save £2.4bn in tax credits, it would also raise £1.5bn in tax revenues.”
He warned that the government’s pledge to lower the benefit cap to £23,000 a year, and the closure of the Independent Living Fund for disabled people, “places the burden of the government’s austerity programme on the shoulders of the most vulnerable”.
Mr Bartley added: “Short of creating an ‘opportunity society’, Conservative cuts will plunge more people into destitution, remove vital support and create additional costs elsewhere, which already squeezed local authorities and voluntary agencies such as foodbanks will have to try and meet.”
The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) warned that cutting tax credits could plunge three million children into poverty.
CPAG Chief Executive Alison Graham said: “Almost a decade ago, the Prime Minister spoke of poverty being a moral disgrace and an economic waste. That was right then and is right now.
“No road to opportunity starts with policies that may end leaving three million children in poverty. No moral mission involves taking away tax credits for our poorest children. No serious plan for the low paid begins with making them poorer by cutting their tax credits.“
“You can’t have one nation if children’s lives, opportunities and life chances at every turn are shaped and limited by poverty. The Government’s child poverty approach is failing but the Prime Minister’s speech today simply missed the point and failed to set out what his Government will do to prevent his legacy being the largest rise in child poverty in a generation.
“We need to move from denial to decisive action. That means instead of highlighting symptoms of poverty, such as debt, he needs to tackle the root causes. It is no good pulling bodies out of the river, without going upstream to see who is throwing them in – especially, if turns out the culprit is government policy.
“The right choices that would reduce poverty include protecting children’s benefits with the same triple lock protection pensions enjoy, fixing the deep cuts to tax credit help for the low paid, tackling cripplingly high rents, high childcare costs and expanding free school meals.”
Meanwhile, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett attacked David Cameron for failing to rule out cuts to disability benefits.
Natalie Bennett said: “David Cameron’s speech today suggested very strongly that the government is planning further cuts to disability benefits, specifically the Disability Living Allowance and the Personal Independence Payment, or the taxing of them.
“Either or both options would be indefensible. As the government’s own website says, PIP ‘helps with some of the extra costs caused by long-term ill-health or a disability’.
“Our society and its structures (such as public transport and access to facilities) fail to adequately meet the needs of many disabled people, and the payment is a part recompense for this.
“David Cameron is right to say that we have to move away from Britain’s low wage employment culture. But that can only be achieved by raising the minimum wage – simply cutting tax credits will only harm workers who will have no chance to make up the difference between the inadequate minimum wage and the living wage level that it should be set at.”
The Prime Minister said: “Whatever the pressures, we will stand by my promises to protect the most vulnerable – including the most disabled who cannot work because that’s the sign of the compassionate country I believe in.”
Labour MP Kate Green turned to the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, to “give disabled people a cast iron guarantee” that he would not make further cuts to disability benefits.
Mr Duncan-Smith responded by saying the government would treat disabled people with “kindness”, but could not commit to protecting disability benefits.
Last updated at 18:57 on 22 June 2015, to include further comments from CPAG.
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