17:12 Tuesday 2nd April 2013
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[C]HRIS MANN: The Chancellor’s been defending controversial changes to the tax and benefit system. George Osborn claims nine out of ten working families will be better off, despite criticism from charities and churches. Our Political Reporter Matt Presland has more.
MATT PRESLAND: Well, basically, of you distill the speech down it was a pretty robust defence of the biggest shake-up to the welfare system in a generation, which of course is going to begin to affect millions of working age people, starting yesterday. He said the current benefit system was failing hard working people, and it’s even responsible for trapping people in poverty. (TAPE)
GEORGE OSBORN: The benefit system is broken. It penalises those who try to do the right thing. And the British people badly want it fixed. And we agree. And those who don’t are on the wrong side of the British public. (LIVE)
MATT PRESLAND: And you can tell from listening to the speech that he’s pretty fed up with a long weekend of pretty bleak headlines for the Coalition on the coverage of the welfare reforms. He’s described some of the coverage in the papers over the Easter break as ill-informed and shrill rubbish. Well the papers defended their coverage. They said they were airing the concerns of MPs, some churches, charities and campaign groups, all of whom have decided that the shake-up will push more people into poverty, resulting in greater inequality. So it seems the package of reforms is proving to be a pretty tough sell for the Coalition, and things are only just hotting up, because many of the reforms have still to be rolled out.
CHRIS MANN: Well as they say, if you don’t like the heat, you should stay out of the kitchen, and I’d imagine that most Chancellors will have experienced that kind of heat, don’t you think? So George Osborn clearly has a fight on his hands then.
MATT PRESLAND: That’s right. He’s going to stick this out, even if it is going to be tough.He’s on a mission he says to win the hearts and minds, particularly at a time when many of us are seeing our incomes squeezed. And on top of that, of course, you’ve got many people being clobbered with things like housing cuts to benefits, for people who live in social homes with spare rooms, the Government’s describing it as a spare room subsidy. This is the one that came in yesterday. But Labour’s calling it a bedroom tax. Now the Coalition has plenty more to talk about and defend, including cuts it’s making to council tax benefits. And also the 1% cap in the increase in other benefits, which critics say is essentially a real terms cut, if you factor in the spiralling cost of living. Now Labour is today claiming the poorest 10% of people are being hit the hardest, while the top 10% will be the big gainers. Ed Balls is the Shadow Chancellor. (TAPE)
ED BALLS: A working family, the average family is £891 worse off as a result of all the changes introduced by the Government since 2010. And now the Government is cutting the top rate of income tax only for the richest people. A millionaire’s tax cut, paid for by millions of working families. (LIVE)
MATT PRELAND: George Osborne remaining unapologetic, saying he’s trying to introduce a benefit system which is fairer and seen not to have penalised hard working people. But of course the Government is also trying to reduce a monster deficit, for which the annual interest bill alone stands at around £50 billion. That’s a lot of money. So the Chancellor has clearly gone on the offensive today, and he’s even being fairly aggressive in explaining the changes to people out and about. He wasn’t at all apologetic in his speech, and he wasn’t even coy, as he laid out the reasoning behind some of the changes, all of which of course amount to a huge political gamble, both for the man personally, and also the Government which he represents.
CHRIS MANN: Matt Presland reporting there.