Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Prime Minister's Welfare Speech Was Shabby and Cynical

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Prime Minister's Welfare Speech Was Shabby and Cynical

Article excerpt

When David Cameron became Conservative leader in zoos, Britain was in the middle of a prolonged economic boom. Displaying little interest in economic policy, Mr Cameron spoke hopefully of "sharing the proceeds of growth" and defined himself through his fashionable social liberalism. When the crash came, unseating the assumptions on which the UK had been governed for 3o years, his intellectual hollowness was exposed. Since becoming Prime Minister, Mr Cameron has struggled to articulate a coherent programme beyond the need for deficit reduction, a task that, in any case, is proving far more difficult than he anticipated.

His speech on welfare reform on 25 June was characteristic of his limitations. What should have been an occasion for considered reflection on an issue of profound importance was used to placate his restive party with a series of populist announcements. Having once decried the Blair government for "initiativitis", Mr Cameron is now addicted to it.

For a government seeking to reduce public spending, there is no easier target than welfare. The polls show that voters overwhelmingly favour reduced benefit levels. It was cynical, therefore, for Mr Cameron to declare in his speech that "governing is not a popularity contest". Equally cynical was his decision to concentrate his cuts on the young. Were Mr Cameron a principled fiscal conservative, he would have proposed reducing expenditure on the elderly, who account for [pounds sterling] 110 bn of the annual [pounds sterling] 207bn welfare budget. Yet he pledged to maintain universal pensioner benefits, including free bus passes, free television licences and the winter fuel payment for the wealthy.

In the case of the young, at a time when youth unemployment stands at 1.01 million (21.9 per cent), Mr Cameron signalled his intention to prevent unemployed school leavers from claiming benefits and to abolish housing benefit for the under-25s. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.