Senior Conservatives have suggested paying lower benefits in the North where the cost of living is lower. But will it make it into their party’s next manifesto? One Tory MP doubts it, while a former Labour cabinet member has called it a “stupid and cruel” idea.
A basis for the Tory general election manifesto?
A series of suggestions designed to build an “opportunity society” have been outlined in a report by senior Tories, reports the Sunday Telegraph.
It examined how to make people more employable, reform the welfare system and support families.
The proposals include paying lower benefits in the North and other parts of the country where living costs are less, axing the retirement age and lengthening the school day by up to three hours.
The report was put together by members of the 2020 Group, made up of 70 Tory MPs – including cabinet ministers such as education secretary Michael Gove as well as rising party stars.
The group asked by Chancellor George Osborne last year to draw up policies for the Tories’ 2015 general election manifesto. Energy minister Greg Barker, who oversaw the report, said it was a “blueprint” for that document.
A “cruel and stupid” idea?
Speaking to MSN News, former Labour cabinet member Nick Brown criticised the idea of lower benefits for Northerners.
“Amongst the many problems that the northern regions face are poverty and unemployment. Benefit cuts won’t help.
“What the northern regions need are a strengthened employment base. People want to work. We haven’t got the jobs,” he said.
Mr Brown, a Newcastle MP and former minister for the North East, described the proposal as “cruel and stupid”.
“It’s difficult enough to survive on what is paid now,” said the Labour MP.
He said the best model to boosting jobs in the north was the system created by Labour of regional development agencies and regional ministers working with councils and the private sector.
Mr Osborne has already sparked a backlash over proposals to vary public sector pay rates around the country.
Neil Foster, policy and campaigns officer for the Northern TUC, said: "Despite losing the battle over regional pay for public sector workers, it seems a hardcore group of Conservatives seem hell-bent on further discrimination against the north."
The way to cut the benefits bill was to create more jobs in the north rather than divide the country through such a measure, added Mr Foster.
Doubts about the policy being included in the Tory manifesto
Conservative MP James Wharton, who represents Stockton South, said: “This is a report by a self-selected group of MPs within the party.
“It doesn’t make up official party policy and while it is important to discuss all ideas, I would be very surprised if this makes it into a manifesto.”
Asked about the idea on the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme, prime minister David Cameron said: “That is not government policy.”