How Osborne Plans To Cut A Further £10bn From The Welfare Budget ~ FULL FACT


Full Fact’s Director Will Moy appeared on Radio 4′s You and Yours today to talk about mooted proposals for reducing benefits spending by £10 billion. Here [FullFact] provide the sources for the information he used, and some extra background information either from [their] preparation or in response to some of the points from listeners.

Where did the idea come from and how firm is it?
  • George Osborne, the Chancellor, gave a speech to Conservative Party Conferenceon Monday in which he said:BUT Nick Clegg said at Liberal Democrat Conference two weeks ago: “We will not allow some of these wild suggestions that are coming from the right of British politics that all the savings should come from welfare, and that we should scoop out a £10bn-sized hole in welfare.” He added he would also reject “wild suggestions” that he “wave a wand and put a freeze on benefits for two years”, saying that would hit the most vulnerable in society. (This was not in the text of his speech, but reported by journalists attending conference)
    • The Government is committed to reducing or eliminating the deficit (the amount by which national debt increases each year)
    • It has chosen to do this by finding 80% of the money needed through reducing spending and 20% from increasing taxes
    • And he argued that another £10 billion needs to come from reducing welfare spending to avoid it having to come from cuts to departments
  • So for the moment these possible reductions are Conservative Party proposals, not Government policy.
How big is the benefits budget?
How big is £10 billion?
  • The £10 billion saving is due to be made by 2016/17, the first year of the new Parliament.
  • Past benefits expenditure and projections are published by the Department for Work and Pensions.
  • BUT they don’t include tax credits or child benefit after 2003/04, because those are handled by HM Revenue and Customs. According to the House of Commons Library, HMRC benefit expenditure is forecast at a further £38.7 billion in 2016/17.
  • In 2016/17, DWP total benefits expenditure will be £180,164 million.
  • Of that, £95,503 million will be spent on the state pension, which has been protected against cuts by the Government.
  • That leaves £84,661 milllion, and potentially the child benefit component of HMRC benefits, from which to find the £10 billion of cuts.
Where has Mr Osborne suggested the reductions could come from?

Quotes are taken from his speech to Conservative Party Conference. Calculations are from the independent experts at the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

  • Cutting Housing Benefit for under-25s: “How can we justify giving flats to young people who have never worked, when working people twice their age are still living with their parents because they can’t afford their first home?”
    • Total abolition would save nearly £2 billion each year, according to the IFS. However, they point out that there are likely to be practical difficulties with abolishing it for all under-25s and savings would probably be considerably less.
    • The Government may agree. The BBC quotes “Government sources” as saying that projected savings could be just “hundreds of millions.”
  • Stopping Child Benefit for families with more than 3 children: “How can we justify a system where people in work have to consider the full financial costs of having another child, whilst those who are out of work don’t?”
    • About 330,000 out-of-work families have at least three children, say the IFS, so even if you could reduce their child benefit by £3,000 each on average, that would only save £1 billion in total.
  • Breaking the link between benefits and inflation, so they do not increase, or increase less, each year: “For how can we justify the incomes of those out of work rising faster than the incomes of those in work?”
    • The IFS calculates that: “A freeze for all working-age benefits and tax credits would save around £2 billion per year.”
    • However, if you only freeze out-of-work benefits (Jobseekers’ Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance and Income Support) that can’t save anything like the same amount because JSA, ESA and IS add up to £16bn in 2016/17, out of £180bn.

To conclude, the only option on the table known to be able to save £10 billion by 2016/17 is to freeze all benefits for a number of years. The other options floated would only make smaller contribution towards George Osborne’s £10 billion target.

Other points

Attitudes to benefits claimants:

  • Lots of callers to the show mentioned attitudes to benefits claimants.
  • The best study is the long-running British Social Attitudes Survey, run by the National Centre for Social Research. The 29th edition has just been published.
  • One conclusion was that 62% agree that unemployment benefits are too high and discourage work, more than double the proportion who thought this in 1991 (27%) and a significantly higher proportion than said this was the case in 2007 (54%), so there is evidence of the ‘toughening’ of attitudes that was mentioned.

Fraud and error in the benefits system (Preliminary 2011/12 estimates from the Department for Work and Pensions):

  • £3.2 billion is overpaid (£1.1bn fraud; £1.3bn customer error; £0.8bn official error)
  • BUT around £780m of overpayments are recovered each year
  • £1.3bn is underpaid
Benefit fraud compared to tax underpayment:
  • There are nuances to this, which [FullFact] have discussed in [their] article Unpaid tax v benefit fraud: what costs more?
  • If you take a broad definition of benefit fraud (including social housing fraud and other things), it adds up to about £4 billion.
  • The ‘tax gap’, which can only be estimated roughly for obvious reasons, is put by HM Revenue and Customs at £35 billion.


  • christine redmond October 9, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    benefits are to high ????? £56 for under 25 and £70 for over 25s, are you people for real…the cost of fuel food ect….these hypocrites spend more on one lunch, the tory attitude is hitlers attitude, tory bullys, wouldnt know poverty if it smacked them in the face. cameron claimed benefits , also got a grant to have his sons disabled bathroom done, and the man is a millionaire !! hypocrite, my god may he rott in hell and the rest of the tory party, after this gvt con/lib dem will never get in again, and soft ar## boris thinking otherwise just shows how thick he is. camerons attack on the most vunerable sick & disabled is unforgivable and will never be forgotton……. boris belongs in a zoo,

  • ODIN October 10, 2012 at 8:48 am

    Nice one Christine, Poxy politicians live in a different reality to the rest of us. What I cannot understand is how on earth they are actually getting away with it, the general public are extremely gullible and always have been. All the Tory Nazi’s needed to do was to get a scapegoat just like before in the thirties, the disabled are the scapegoats this time. Just demonize them through the gutter press and let the gullible public do the rest, simple. Trouble is that what the public don’t realise is, is that it will be their turn next. Wake up Britain! and see what’s really going on because they are coming for you too, the ConDems or Labour it does not matter which they will both screw you.

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