Steve Webb, welfare minister, today announced curbs on government “crisis loans”, which are a lifeline to families unable to afford basic needs.

Demand is currently outstripping the Treasury funds available. So the emergency loans will no longer cover beds and cookers, the rates will be cut and an annual cap applied to payouts. 

There are some quite astonishing stats on the proposed benefit cap, which from 2013 will stop families on out-of-work benefits from receiving more than £26,000 a year.

This one is my favourite. A third of those hit by the rule change are lone parents with five children or more

A cracking scoop from Nick Timmins this morning on yet another important coalition policy retreat.

Andrew Lansley has — under some duress — ditched one of the most controversial aspects of his NHS overhaul: allowing hospitals to compete on treatment prices. 

If Nick Clegg every imagined the maximum £9,000 university fees would be levied in “exceptional circumstances”, Exeter is a wake-up call.

The university will be seeking to charge the full rate in 2012, a decision that shows £9,000 won’t just be the price for Russell Group institutions. 

David Cameron’s opposition to the release of the Lockerbie bomber is plain. But he has a more nuanced position on Tony Blair’s deal to bring Gaddafi in from the cold.

Cameron is privately rather relieved he was spared having to take the decision. From his public statements, it seems he backs the principle behind the pact. But in hindsight he thinks Blair gave a bit too much away. 

There were some fascinating exchanges in the Commons after David Cameron’s statement on Libya. Here are some of the highlights:

– Britain may arm the opposition: Cameron said that his top priority was deposing the Gaddafi regime: “If helping the opposition would somehow bring that about it is certainly something we should be considering.” He added that he was “trying to establish contact with the opposition to find out what their intentions are”

A few weeks ago, we asked one senior British government figure whether the uprisings would spread to the Gulf. There are “no problems” yet, he replied.

The language was revealing (when exactly did Britain see democratic change as a problem?) But it is probably to be expected given Britain’s investment in the preserving the regional status-quo. 

There’s been some chatter in the City about David Cameron’s trip to the Gulf being part of a cunning plan to sell the taxpayer’s bank stakes. 

Britain’s defence industry has no better friend than David Cameron, at least when it comes to exports.

Given the dramatic turn of events in the Middle East, the prime minister has certainly not opted for the path of least resistance.

We’re still at the beginning of this trip (as I write this I’m sitting in the Kuwaiti parliament). But it is already absolutely clear that he really does believe in commercial diplomacy – and that means promoting defence sales, come rain or shine. 

David Cameron actually made three policy concessions this week. At this rate, he may as well install a revolving door at No 10. It’s another Lib Dem victory of sorts, but they’re not really crowing about it.

Buried in the documentation for the Universal Credit is a softening of the plan to cut payments for disabled people in care homes. 

This is definitely the most curious policy included in the Universal Credit reforms. Why does IDS want to meddle with the mighty army of stay-at-home mums?

Under his plan, if mothers with working partners want to claim Universal Credit, they will face the same jobseeking regime applying to single-mothers. With a few important caveats, they’ll effectively be regarded as someone claiming Jobseekers Allowance.

This is a big change. It will mean that these mums (or stay-at-home fathers) will in future have to turn up at the Jobcentre to explain how they’re planning to return to work.

Once their children are aged seven, if they don’t turn up for their “work focussed interview”, they could even have their benefit docked.

For, say, the proud wife of a postman who stays at home because it makes economic sense, turning up at the Jobcentre could be quite a unsettling experience.

What is even more peculiar is the fact that IDS will be toughening the rules and threatening sanctions, while at the same time reducing the financial incentive to work.

Around 330,000 second earners will, after these reforms, face a higher marginal deduction rate. That said, these reforms will make it easier to work fewer hours — one of many positive benefits.

But I struggle to see the advantage of extending a conditionality regime on to stay-at-home mothers in working families. This will cost money, use up the scarce time of jobcentre advisors and be unpopular in many households. What is the point? 

Iain Duncan Smith declared this morning that “nobody will be worse off” under Universal Credit.

That is quite a claim, particularly given 1.7m households will lose out, at least in terms of their notional entitlement to benefit.

He was referring, of course, to the protection that will be provided so no family loses in cash terms at the point of transition.

This promise is both the midwife to this dramatic reform plan, and one of the most tricky measures to implement.