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Monday, December 22, 1997 Published at 12:50 GMT


Blair stands firm on welfare

The British Prime Minister Tony Blair has hit back at suggestions that there are deep splits in his Cabinet by insisting the Government will stand firm on welfare reforms.

Writing in the Daily Mail newspaper, Mr Blair said "no amount of leaked documents or sensationalisation of their contents" will stop the Government from tackling the problems.

He promised: "Change will come sensitively and will protect those in need. I will see to that. But change there should and must be."

Mr Blair insisted his Government would "not flinch". That included the Education Secretary, David Blunkett -- whose private memo to the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, suggested there was a rift between Cabinet members.

Mr Blair writes: "The entire Cabinet is united behind the principle of welfare reform, and united too in its determination to ensure that the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review delivers value for money."

[ image: David Blunkett says his attack was on civil servants not ministers]
David Blunkett says his attack was on civil servants not ministers
Although ministers have been trying to close ranks since Mr Blunkett's memo - leaked to the Sunday Telegraph on Sunday - the opposition is still convinced the Education Secretary is at war with the Treasury.

In his memo, Mr Blunkett warned Gordon Brown that deep cuts in support for disabled people would make a mockery of Labour's plans to build a more just society.

However, after the leak, Mr Blunkett released a statement saying he was a strong advocate of reform. He said he was attacking proposals from civil servants not fellow ministers.

"There are proposals being put up by officials from a variety of departments which we will find unacceptable, which do not fit the principles laid down by the Prime Minister yesterday," said Mr Blunkett.

"We're allowed and should be vigorous in debating those proposals."

Campaigners worried

In the memo, Mr Blunkett warned that "deep cuts in the totality of support for disabled people who cannot work or can only get low paid jobs would make a mockery of our professions on social exclusion and the construction of a more just society".

The document reveals a series of specific changes to disability benefits being discussed within Government.

Campaigners for the disabled are worried about new threats to tax and means test benefits including the disability living allowance.

Mr Blunkett said this would not be appropriate, but he claimed that he is entirely behind the principle of encouraging people with disabilities to work if they can.


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