Fears for most vulnerable as austerity continues


George Osborne announced in Birmingham today that 2014 will be the year of what he called "hard truths" as he warned of further austerity.

He said £25bn of cuts were needed after the next election, with £12bn coming from the welfare bill.

In explaining the rationale behind this, the BBC quoted him as saying: "The deficit is down … That's the good news. The bad news is, there's still a long way to go. We're borrowing around £100 billion a year - and paying half of that money a year in interest just to service our debts. We've got to make more cuts."

The young are set to be the big losers from the cuts as housing benefit for the under-25s will be slashed, a change already announced at the Conservative Party Conference last October.

David Cameron spoke at the time of his intention to "nag and push and guide" young people in such a way that they remain on unemployment benefits for as little time as possible.

"Today it is still possible to leave school, sign on, find a flat, start claiming housing benefit and opt for a life on benefits. It's time for bold action here," he said.

Christians Against Poverty said it fully appreciated that difficult and unpopular decisions needed to be made to reduce the national debt, but said it was unfair that "the poorest people are paying the cost for trying to kill the deficit".

It warned against removing housing benefit from the under-25s, saying it would leave some in a very vulnerable situation, particularly those living in areas where work is scarce.

"Not everyone has the luxury of a loving family to fall back on," said the group.

Church Action on Poverty was equally disappointed by Osborne's comments, saying the announcement of further austerity was "very bad news".

"Last year half a million people were dependent on emergency food aid and the most common reason for that is people having problems with their benefits often because of the cuts that are happening," it said.

"People can't take much more. The network of food banks isn't going to be able to cope… there's a real risk there."

Church Action on Poverty argued that greater efficiency in tax collecting was one way to tackle the deficit. It challenged the Government to collect the estimated £35bn of tax being dodged or avoided every year.