PCS civil servants union general secretary Mark Serwotka yesterday slammed Work and Pensions secretary Duncan Smith’s speech attacking youth, families and the unemployed.
Serwotka said: ‘No one chooses a life on benefits; there are 4.5 million people out of work or looking for a permanent or full-time job, but only 476,000 vacancies.
‘Instead of handing tax breaks to millionaires and punishing the poor, ministers should be pursuing the wealthy tax dodgers who deprive our public finances of tens of billions of pounds every year.’
Slamming plans to axe Housing Benefit for under 25s, Campbell Robb, Chief Executive of Shelter, said: ‘Being under 25 is being used as shorthand for people who don’t have responsibilities or adult commitments, whereas in reality more than half of young people who claim Housing Benefit already have a family of their own.
‘Others have left home to get married, move for job opportunities, or escape serious problems in their family home.
‘For the small number of single young people renting privately and claiming Housing Benefit, it is mainly used as a short-term safety net.
‘Six in ten will be on benefits for less than six months while they are unemployed and look for work. Many will have been paying into the system through their years of employment, only to be told that it will give them nothing back when they need it most.
‘Young people are already facing an incredibly tough time, with high unemployment, rising living costs and flat-lining wages for those lucky enough to have a job.
‘Removing such a vital source of support will be a huge blow for young people struggling to set themselves up in life.’
Child-related benefits for families may be capped at two children, Duncan Smith said, adding that stopping the current system, where families get more benefits the more children they have, was among changes being considered.
Duncan Smith claimed: ‘People who are having support from welfare are often freed from that decision.’
He asked: ‘Can there not be a limit to the fact you need to cut your cloth in accordance with what capabilities and finances you have?’
Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, responded: ‘Like many other people, when they plan their families, they are not thinking about whether at some point in the future they might be on benefit.’