Labour is in a slightly difficult position about how to respond to the news in the FT today that the Treasury is looking to slash benefits by linking them to earnings or even freezing them temporarily.
Although Cameron said he wouldn’t “balance the books on the back of the poor”, Labour knows that attacking the government for hypocrisy on this point could make it look like they are standing up for benefits’ claimants – or “scroungers” as they are thought of by many people.
Instead, the opposition will want to pick its battles. At the moment, the Treasury is still actively considering applying this change to all benefits and pensions, which would affect a lot of people who don’t fall into the “scrounger”.
The first one is battle will be over pensions, which is the thrust of Liam Byrne’s response today. The shadow work and pensions secretary said:
Pensioners up and down the country struggling with rising heating bills and worried about the winter ahead will now be worried sick about rumours that the Government is about to bin its commitment to triple lock increase in pensions.
IDS must come clean today about whether the triple lock is government policy now and next year. Or is it going to be another broken promise?
It is possible that the government will spare pensions and certain benefits (perhaps child support for example), and apply the below-inflation rise only to groups considered more “undeserving”, such as unemployed people.
Labour MPs know that if they pick each of these groups one-by-one they could get ahead of this debate and look like they are successfully pressuring ministers to change their plans.