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Campaigners angry at Osborne speech

04 October 2013


On the podium: the Prime Minister delivers his keynote address to the conference in Manchester on Wednesday

On the podium: the Prime Minister delivers his keynote address to the conference in Manchester on Wednesday

DRIVERS of fork-lift trucks in a Morrisons warehouse, staff at the Warburtons factory near Birmingham, and the night crews who repair the M6 were the heroes of a speech made by the Chancellor, George Osborne, on Sunday, at a Conservative Party conference that was dedicated to "hardworking people".

But his words immediately provoked anger from poverty campaigners, who accused him of perpetuating the myth that poverty was the result of idleness.

Mr Osborne announced a new policy to address unemployment, Help to Work, which will mean that "all long-term unemployed people who are capable of work will be required to do something in return for their benefits, and to help them find work. . . No one will get something for nothing." Those who do not comply will lose four weeks' worth of benefits.

"Today's speech by the Chancellor reinforces the assumption that, effectively, the only purpose of welfare is to promote hard work," Niall Cooper, of Church Action on Poverty, said. "More generally, public debate has become increasingly polarised, leading to unhealthy and misleading arguments setting so-called 'strivers' against co-called 'shirkers'. . ."

As Christians, he said, "we must reassert the positive and enduring role of the welfare state, and reclaim the vision of it providing a safety net to protect all people from the giant evil of hunger and destitution."

The chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, Alison Garnham, said: "We know already that most of those who are out of work longest are in parts of the country where the market is not providing enough jobs."

On Saturday, the Prime Minister announced proposals to offer married couples on lower incomes tax breaks worth up to £200 per annum. Up to four million married couples are expected to benefit, and 15,000 couples in civil partnerships.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said: "We welcome all support for family life, and we're pleased that this initiative includes both married couples and those in civil partnerships."

The appeal to "hard-working people" was reiterated by the Prime Minister in his speech on Wednesday: "The best way out of poverty is work - and the dignity that brings."

Leader comment

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