A leaked document, mentioning a few possible cuts to benefits, has been widely reported. I’d previously commented on some ideas floated by Iain Duncan Smith, including cuts to large families, refusing benefits to immigrants and limiting the welfare cap. Regardless of their popular appeal, these are no way to make major economies – they address imagined problems, and there’s not much money to be saved from cutting benefits that aren’t being paid in the first place. The new list is rather more serious: limiting the scope of carers’ benefits, transferring the burden of the industrial injuries scheme to industry and making disability benefits taxable. These still wouldn’t save £12 billion, but (for a change) the ideas have obviously been compiled by a team who actually know how the benefits system works. The Financial Times reports that the DWP team has been working to directions from Sir Jeremy Heywood, head of the Civil Service.
The government has been eager to disown the document. “It’s wrong and misleading”, a spokeswoman for Iain Duncan Smith said, “to suggest that any of this is part of our plan.” There has been no official explanation of where the government thinks £12 billion could be cut from benefits. That’s unusual in a Budget, which tempts me to speculate that the Chancellor might not have had the agreement of his coalition partners to the projected savings. But the explanation might be simpler: with the election looming, telling several million disabled people and their families that their benefits are about to be cut may not be the smartest way to go.