A list of “very, highly or extremely controversial” potential cuts to benefits have been drawn up by civil servants in response to warnings that the next government would struggle to keep welfare spending below a legal cap of about £120bn a year.
The cuts proposed by officials at the Department for Work and Pensions include abolishing statutory maternity pay and barring under-25s from claiming incapacity benefit or housing benefit. Money could also be raised, civil servants suggested, by increasing the bedroom tax in certain cases.
In one of the DWP documents seen by the Guardian, two Whitehall officials say colleagues who were consulted in 2014 about the potential cuts described them as “very/highly/extremely controversial”, which highlighted that when it came to welfare spending that there was “not much low-hanging fruit left”.
The Conservatives have proposed cutting £12bn in welfare after the election, without specifying how. The DWP proposals were canvassed the year before, amid warnings that the failure of the coalition to get to grips with accelerating spending on key benefits would leave the next administration “vulnerable to a breach” of the welfare spending cap.
Other options laid out in the DWP documents include:
• Getting employers to contribute more to the cost of statutory maternity pay – or as an alternative abolishing it entirely.
• Freezing benefit payments at current levels across the board.
• Limiting welfare payments by family size.
• Forcing single parents on income support to seek work when their youngest child reaches the age of three (currently five).
• Making it harder for sick people to claim state aid when they are out of work by introducing “stricter” fit-for-work tests and/or tighter limits on eligibility.
• Increasing the bedroom tax on certain categories of renters.
• Barring under-25s from claiming incapacity benefit or housing benefit.