David Davis says Welfare reform will be a big issue at the election


As published in the Daily Mail:
Jobless families with more than two children face child benefit cut

Unemployed families face having their child benefit capped under new Tory plans if they have more than two children.

A Conservative source said the proposal was highly likely’ to be included in the 2015 general election manifesto as the party seeks to curb the bloated benefits bill, encourage people back to work and reinforce dividing lines with Labour over welfare reform.

The source said: I think you can expect to see a child benefit cap in the manifesto – it’s an idea that is both popular and right.’

Downing Street yesterday dismissed reports suggesting the two-child benefit cap could be applied to all families. But that idea sparked a huge public debate, with many internet users saying it was long overdue.

Former Tory leadership contender David Davis suggested it was being put forward to test public opinion.

Mr Davis said: Welfare reform will be a big issue at the election. This is a highly contentious idea and I think you are seeing the Conservative Party testing it out to see if it is popular.

I think it probably will be, because people want us to be tougher on welfare.’

Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi, who was recently appointed to the Number 10 policy board by David Cameron, floated the idea of a blanket two-child cap in The Mail on Sunday. He said it should apply to all families, those who are on benefits and those who are not.

Many couples take the decision to delay having a third or fourth child until they are sure they can afford it,’ he said. This should be the case for every family, regardless of income. Capping welfare by family size would save billions and help the next generation think more carefully about their relationship with the welfare state.’

Mr Zahawi also suggested that large families earning less than £30,000 could lose their entitlement to child tax credits worth £2,725 a year.

A Number 10 source said: This is not government policy and is not supported by the Prime Minister.’

However sources acknowledged that discussion of a cap targeted at those on benefits is ongoing.

Under this proposal unemployed families with more than two children would lose almost £700 per year per child. The plan would not be retrospective and would initially generate only small savings to the benefits system.

But ministers believe it would send out a clear message that families cannot expect to have their lifestyles subsidised by the taxpayer.

Cases such as that of jobless Iona Heaton, from Blackburn, have caused widespread anger.

The 44-year-old and her boyfriend Paul Brown, 46, have seven children and she has three from a previous relationship.

She had her first child at 19 and has never worked. This year she decided to try to conceive again to get more money after some of her benefits were cut. If the plan goes through she would be unable to claim for any future children.

Ministers believe the plan would also help define the choice to voters between a Conservative Party that wants to reform the welfare system and a Labour Party that does not.

Tory Party chairman Grant Shapps championed the idea in July, saying: We need to create a choice for people on welfare which mirrors that which millions of people in work who aren’t receiving state support have to make. It’s only fair to the taxpayer.’

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has also spoken up in favour of the proposal, saying it is unfair that the unemployed are freed’ from the decision on whether they can afford to have another child.

In a speech last year he said: If you are a working family and you have another child, you know it’s going to mean quite a severe impact on your living costs.

Yet in the welfare system, it’s almost turned on its head, so additional children are actually recognised, with no limit.’

Nick Clegg has boasted that he blocked a similar Tory proposal during government spending discussions last year.

Any attempt to revive it before the election would almost certainly be vetoed by the Liberal Democrats. Labour criticised Mr Zahawi’s intervention, pointing out that he had to apologise last month after it emerged that a £6,000 heating bill charged to the taxpayer included heating the stables at his second home.

But the question of a child benefit cap remains active in Tory circles, although one Tory source insisted it was not top of our list’.

Private polling is said to show widespread support for the idea of capping the benefits of large families on the dole.

The idea gained ground last year following revelations about the notorious child killer Mick Philpott. Unemployed Philpott, who killed six of his 17 children in a house fire in Derby, was revealed to be raking in £60,000 a year in benefits.