It’s been a tough fortnight for the prime minister. The disastrous budget, the ‘cash for access’ scandal and ‘pastygate’ have blown a gaping hole in David Cameron’s credibility, with his party plunging to 32% in the polls.
So in the light of this crisis, Cameron has fought back with the politics of divide and rule. Launching the Conservative’s Welsh local election campaign, he announced plans for young people on housing benefit to be denied support and forced to live with their parents. In his speech he claimed he is prepared to “rub people up the wrong way” and ready for a “flat-out, full-throttle fight”.
The problem is that David Cameron is picking the wrong fight. Instead of fighting for responsibility at the top he’s decided to relaunch his crusade to hit those at the bottom, in a desperate populist popularity drive. His proposal, like much of the Coalition’s welfare agenda, is painfully unfair. It is yet another example of this government hammering young people into the ground for a crisis caused by those at the top.
Downing Street has floated the idea of banning all under 25s from claiming Housing Benefit because it wants younger people to return home if they are out of work, supposedly like many people working in entry level jobs.
Yet the government is again failing to recognise that Housing Benefit is widely claimed by people who are in employment. You do not have to be unemployed to be eligible for Housing Benefit, and so the Coalition is again misfiring and hitting the very people they claim to support. Cameron’s plans came on the same day as previous tax and benefit changes took effect, with up to 212,000 working couples earning less than £17,000 a year losing all of their working tax credit. The government is hitting the very ‘hard working families’ it claims to support.
The reality is that a policy already exists to discourage young people from a Housing Benefit-funded move out of the family home – it’s called the Shared Accommodation Rate. This restricts single, childless claimants under 35 (raised from 25 in January) to only enough Housing Benefit to rent a room in a shared house. This policy is bad enough, as a piece of legislation it discriminates ferociously against the young, but the new proposals are not only far worse but totally unnecessary.
As a country, we already discriminate against the young far too much in our welfare system as it is, but Cameron’s proposals will only serve to intensify the problem. Benefits should be based on need, not on age. Why should a 23 year old not be able to claim housing benefit when a 40 year old in the same circumstances can?
“There is no morally justifiable case for paying the under 25s less housing benefit.” Ed Miliband? Ed Balls? Rachel Reeves? No, this was Danny Alexander speaking when in opposition. He was right then, so what’s changed? Yet again we see the hypocrisy of the Liberal Democrats propping up yet another proposal to hammer the very people they once claimed to protect, after their failure to stand up for young people on tuition fees and EMA.
Young people deserve so much better than this sham of a government , and they’re beginning to recognise it. The latest YouGov poll for The Sun showed 52% of young people now say they back Labour, compared with just 27% for the Tories (and a meagre 7% for the Lib Dems).
Ed Miliband must unequivocally oppose this nasty and discriminatory policy, and recognise it for the opportunistic and desperate proposal that it is. Labour shouldn’t ‘support in principle’, we should totally oppose if we’re to continue to convince young people that we’re on their side.