The Telegraph reports today that Iain Duncan Smith has pledged to cut a further £3 billion from the DWP budget, in order to protect spending on the armed forces and police. This announcement seems particularly crass at a time when existing cuts to welfare have had tragic consequences: local food banks, faced with an unprecedented increase in demand, are unable to feed everyone. Families are going hungry. The devastation of the social safety net leaves charities, underfunded and overworked, to fill the gap.
One of Smith’s proposals, we are told, is to abolish Housing Benefit for people under twenty-five, an idea floated by David Cameron last year. An anonymous Conservative source is quoted as saying “Iain Duncan Smith has offered a deal which will protect the country’s security. The Liberal Democrats will block it — and it will be for them to explain why it is more important for teenagers to be given council flats rather than for the nation and its citizens to be protected.”
This statement demonstrates a profound ignorance of reality. The Tories seem to believe that young people unable to afford housing ought simply to move back in with their parents. No one seems to have considered that not every young person has a family home to go back to. What about young adults who are survivors of abuse, or who have been thrown out of their home, or who are orphaned? Does Smith think that an eighteen-year-old thrown out on the street by an abusive parent ought to go back to her abuser and beg to be taken in? Nor are we told whether he plans to make an exception for young people who are themselves parents of young children. As someone who once worked in a Citizens’ Advice Bureau and saw firsthand the consequences of cutbacks, I am very afraid that Smith’s proposals will come at a terrible human cost.
The public reaction to the tragic Woolwich murder should not be exploited to harm the most vulnerable in our society. These decisions are wrong, and it is time we stood up against them.