EVERYONE under the age of 25 should be “learning or earning” and refusing to do one or the other could result in young people having their benefits slashed, David Cameron said yesterday.
In his speech to the Tory conference in Manchester, the Prime Minister told Conservative Party members that it was not “callous” to tell “Generation Y” that they could no longer “choose the dole” rather than attending college or getting a job.
He declared that a Tory government elected in 2015 would plan to stop paying out such benefits, including the approximately £2 billion sum currently given in housing benefit to under-25s.
However, the proposal, first outlined by Mr Cameron last year, could run into difficulties, as many such claims are made by single mothers or families with children, who will make the case they need to remain at home.
The call to get tougher on working-age benefits in Britain was the key pledge in Mr Cameron’s address yesterday, as he sought to make the argument that, with the economy recovering, voters should give the Tories the chance to “finish the job” by returning them to government in the 2015 general election.
“This isn’t job done; it is job begun,” he told the audience, three years after taking office, saying he wanted to create a “land of opportunity” in a potential second term.
The 50-minute speech came with Mr Cameron under pressure to respond to Labour leader Ed Miliband, with polls suggesting a Labour victory in 2015 and following his populist pledge to freeze energy prices after the next general election.
It prompted an hard-edged riposte by Mr Cameron, as he blamed Labour for hospital scandals, the size of the deficit, and the failure to tackle the “welfare society”.
On Mr Miliband, he added: “I know that bashing business might play to a Labour audience. But it’s crazy for our country.”
Speaking after Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson had spoken to party members, defending the Union, Mr Cameron also briefly spoke directly to Scottish voters. “We want you to stay. We want to stick together,” he said, insisting he was speaking on behalf of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Also in the speech, he singled out the controversial High Speed 2 link from London to the north of England for support, insisting that it was time to heal the north-south divide.
On the economy, he warned that the “debt crisis” facing the UK was still a major threat to the country’s prosperity, saying anyone who thought it was over was “living in a fantasy land”.
Mr Cameron made it clear he expects a future UK government to find further cuts to the cost of government, pledging to “keep on” cutting taxes.
However, in a policy-light speech, Mr Cameron’s only announcement was the commitment to stop benefits for the under-25s, itself a plan which has already been mooted by the coalition government.
Under existing rules, under- 25s lose benefits if they are in training for more than 16 hours a week, prompting warnings that the system incentivises them to stop attending such programmes. If pushed through, under-25s who refuse to take part in training schemes would lose automatic entitlement to benefits such as Jobseekers’ Allowance and housing benefit.
In response, Mr Miliband replied: “David Cameron’s speech shows he does not know where to start in tackling the cost-of- living crisis facing Britain’s hard-working families. The last thing families want is him to ‘finish the job’ when prices have risen faster than wages and average pay is down by almost £1,500.”
TUC general-secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The Prime Minister’s threat to ban the dole for under-25s will push hundreds of thousands of young people, including those with young families, even deeper into poverty.”
But John Cridland, CBI director-general, said: “The Prime Minister has sent out a strong message about how vital British business is to the future prosperity of people across the UK.”
Sketch: Smirnoff and ‘bunny’ Gove – two reasons to stay in the UK
Leaders are fond of praising Scotland for its drink. Chancellors enjoy a dram or two of whisky and trade missions have been organised to spread the whisky market around the world.
So it was little surprise that in his defence of the UK David Cameron should choose to praise a world-famous beverage made in Scotland in a speech where he pleaded to those north of the Border: “Please don’t go” .
Except that this time he was not defending the UK from separatism or even praising whisky. Instead, he was reminding Russian president Vladimir Putin just how great Britain is after one of his officials dismissed the UK as a “small island that no-one pays any attention to”.
He said: “Remember the biggest selling vodka in the world isn’t Russian, it’s British – Smirnoff – made in Fife.”
It did not take long for Mr Cameron to give another of the reasons why he does not want Scotland to leave the UK. It seems that he might potentially lose a member of his Cabinet whose abilities are so amazing that he is a “cross between Mr Chips and the Duracell bunny”.
The bunny is none other than Aberdeen born and Edinburgh educated Michael Gove, the Education Secretary for schools in England.
It was also noticeable that the adoration of the Tory faithful was back after at least two years where the Prime Minister had even struggled to fill the hall.
Mr Cameron has for a long time been antagonised in the Commons by Ed Balls with his sweeping arm gesture of a flatlining economy. But Mr Cameron’s new-found confidence gave him his own gesticulating reposit pointing up to the sky with his finger.
It was meant to symbolise an improving economy but after years of poor poll ratings, austerity and back-bench revolts maybe the real message was: “the only way is up!”