The Deputy Prime Minister admitted the coalition’s £26,000-a-year welfare cap is having more impact on benefit claimants in London than in areas such as his own South Yorkshire constituency, but dismissed calls for the limit to be set by region in the future.
The issue of regional benefits is an explosive one for the coalition, following its aborted attempt to introduce regional pay deals into the public sector last year.
That idea – eventually dropped – caused a huge outcry amongst Northern MPs, who warned the effect of lower pay in the regions would be to suck public money out of the areas that need it most.
David Cameron then pulled proposals for regionally-set benefit payments from a speech he made on welfare reform last year, amidst fears in Downing Street of a similar outcry. Nonetheless, Labour has suggested the Government’s new £26,000-a-year welfare cap could me more effective if it was set at a regional level.
But speaking at his monthly Press conference, Mr Clegg said he will not countenance the idea of regional benefit payments.
“I know there are some people who think we should take a regional approach to benefits generally,” the Sheffield MP said. “I suppose logic would dictate that you have different caps in different parts of the country.
“I’ve not seen any evidence that’s a workable way of approaching it – you have to apply it nationally. The figure which has an effect on welfare recipients in London might not have so much effect in the North East or South Yorkshire... But I think we need to keep that approach.”
Mr Clegg said his priority for savings remains a means test for pensioner benefits such as free TV licences and winter fuel allowances, but that he saw no prospect of this before the next election.
“The Conservatives don’t want to know,” he said.