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Sunday, December 14, 1997 Published at 13:40 GMT


Ministers seek to allay benefits fears
image: [ Putting on a brave face: Mr Blair was at a summit in Luxembourg when the row broke ]
Putting on a brave face: Mr Blair was at a summit in Luxembourg when the row broke

The Prime Minister has reiterated that he will not leave the sick and disabled in need.

Tony Blair's comments came after a leaked memo showed the Government was considering cuts to disability and sickness benefits to raise funds for education and health.

[ image: Harriet Harman: under fire in the Commons]
Harriet Harman: under fire in the Commons
Rebel Labour MPs reacted angrily to the memo to the Social Security Secretary, Harriet Harman, from her chief policy adviser, which was passed to Channel 4 News.

It has fuelled the controversy over plans to cut benefits to single parents, which 47 Labour MPs opposed in a vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

In an interview on GMTV, Mr Blair said welfare reform was still the Government's big idea and he would not be deflected from carrying it out.

But he stressed no-one in need should suffer.

He told The Sunday Programme: "If you want to have a welfare system for the future, if you want to make sure you're not ending up spending billions upon billions upon billions of pounds on social security for people to do nothing, then you've got to reform the benefit system.

"What we have got to try to do is reform the system so those that can and want to get into work are able to do so."

Welfare State 'needs rebuilding'

[ image:  ]
In an interview with the Independent on Sunday newspaper, Britain's chief finance minister Gordon Brown said the welfare state in its present form was failing millions of people and had to be rebuilt.

But the Chancellor insisted the Government's strategy was not "cuts led."

"The message overall is that nobody in genuine need will be forced off benefits, but that the overall bill on the sick and disabled, now running at over £23bn a year, will have to be brought down," he said.

One of Labour's rebel MPs, Ken Livingstone, said Labour MPs would "get hold of the whips on Monday and tell them they just won't go along with this."

[ image: Ann Clwyd: Warning to Labour leaders]
Ann Clwyd: Warning to Labour leaders
Backbencher Ann Clwyd, who also voted against the Government over single-parent benefits, warned Labour leaders of further internal division.

Ann Clwyd expresses her worries
"There is great concern in the Parliamentary Labour Party. Even people who voted with the Government went into the lobbies feeling very distressed. They don't want to see it happen again."

John Denham, Minister for Disabled People, said he would not discuss a leaked document beyond saying this was not a policy paper and had not been seen by ministers.

There are six sickness and disability benefits which cost more than £16bn a year - about a quarter of total welfare spending.

Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn predicts trouble if the cuts go ahead
The Conservative Social Security spokesman, Simon Burns, said Labour planned to attack society's most vulnerable.

He called on Ms Harman to refute the policy or admit it is part of her plans.

Liberal Democrat social security spokesman, David Rendel, said: "The Government appears to be threatening some of the most disadvantaged with even greater disadvantages."

The All-Party Disablement Group meets Ms Harman on Thursday to discuss disability benefits.

Lord Ashley of Stoke, a Labour peer and joint chairman of the group, said: "Any proposed cuts, taxation or means testing of disability benefits are cuts for cuts' sake."

Brian Lamb, public affairs manager for Scope, the UK's largest disability organisation, said: "This latest news will only increase disabled people's anxiety about the future of the benefits they depend on.

"Disabled people's basic living needs depend on adequate benefits."

The Government's spending review began in June and is expected to come up with results by June, 1998.

Ann Clwyd expresses her worries
Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn predicts trouble if the cuts go ahead

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Internet Links


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