Magazine article Public Finance

DCLG Minister Stands by 'Radical' Benefit Reforms

Magazine article Public Finance

DCLG Minister Stands by 'Radical' Benefit Reforms

Article excerpt

Local government rninister Bob Neill has defended coalition plans to introduce benefit limits as 'necessary and fair'.

Councils are to have a major role in pushing through the controversial benefits cap, which will ensure state support to out-of-work households does not exceed the income of an average working household

The move, which takes effect in 2013, was announced by Chancellor George Osborne in his keynote address to the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham on October 4.

Osborne said money would go to families who need it 'but no more money than to families who go out to work'.

He added: 'That is what the British people mean by fair - and we will be the first government in history to bring it about'

All new and existing housing benefit claimants will have their total state support assessed by councils, which will reduce payouts accordingly to remain within the cap.

Speaking to Public Finance after Osborne's speech, Neill said the restriction was a 'necessary and fair cuf because of the deficit the government had inherited from Labour.

He also dismissed suggestions that the move would affect councils' standing in their communities.

'I don't think it should make a huge amount of difference at the end of the day, provided it is done sensitively and proportionately.'

But the move immediately caused concern among local government commentators.

Tony Travers, director of the Greater London Group at the London School of Economics, told PF that Osborne had given local authorities 'an awkward part of the social security system' to manage.

It puts them in charge 'of a hugely controversial change to the benefits system', he said. 'Even if if s only for a small number of households and concentrated in a small number of places, if s not going to be a very popular job.'

Andy Sawford, director of the Local Government Information Unit, said most councils were likely to take the new responsibilities 'in their stride' but admitted it would 'not be a great place to be'. He added: 'Clearly people whose money is capped will be fed up about it'

Sawford also said the move did not represent the kind of localism he wanted to see. 'If s not something that gives councils more flexibility or more power, which is what we want around welfare reform, just additional tasks which most will just get on with.'

The government said it would give councils extra resources to fund the arrangements, which will be in place until Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith's plans for a Universal Credit are rolled out Full costings for the arrangements will be set out in the October 20 Comprehensive Spending Review. …

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