Ed Miliband has accused the Conservatives of planning a “devastating” attack on family finances, as he warned that child benefit and tax credits are “on the ballot paper” at next week’s General Election.
But the Conservatives disowned proposals for £8 billion cuts to the benefits put forward by Iain Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) during the coalition, insisting they would “never” be supported by the Prime Minister or Chancellor.
Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander said the cuts – including means-testing child benefit, removing it from 16-to-19-year-olds and limiting the benefit and child tax credit to two children per family – were floated by Mr Duncan Smith and blocked by Liberal Democrats in 2012.
The Lib Dem claimed they were a sign of where the axe might fall to deliver the £12bn welfare reductions promised by Chancellor George Osborne if the Conservatives win the General Election.
But Mr Osborne said the DWP document was “commissioned” by Mr Alexander, when he asked Whitehall departments to put forward options for savings in the spending review.
The Chancellor said: “We have not put into practice any of these options. We don’t support them. We didn’t support them. We don’t support them in the future. But there is a clear choice at this election. Ed Miliband wants to put up the benefits bill and that means higher taxes for working people. David Cameron and the Conservatives will cut taxes for working people and we think savings can be made in the welfare system.”
The row erupted as an Ipsos Mori poll put Mr Cameron’s party five points ahead with seven days to go to the 7 May General Election, up two points on 35 per cent, compared to Labour’s 30 per cent (down five over the past fortnight), Ukip on 10 per cent (unchanged), the Lib Dems on 8 per cent (up one) and the Greens on 8 per cent (unchanged).
Mr Miliband said Mr Alexander’s comments had revealed the Conservatives’ “secret plan”.
“Child benefit and child tax credits are on the ballot paper next week,” said the Labour leader. “The Tory plans would mean thousands of pounds taken away from millions of families in our country…
“They will unleash these devastating plans on families in just seven days’ time if they get the chance.
“It’s the final proof that working families can’t afford another five years of David Cameron and his Tory government.”
He said he was taking the unusual step of revealing the proposals because the Tories were “trying to con the British people by keeping their planned cuts secret”.