Senior Lib Dem blasts Tory ‘demonisation’ of poor
Lord Paddy Ashdown has criticised Conservatives for demonising the poor and making welfare reforms harder to implement.
The former Liberal Democrat leader made the comments at the Chartered Institute of Housing south west conference in Torquay on Friday ahead of the beginning of universal credit today (Monday).
Lord Ashdown said it was ‘distressing for Liberal Democrats’ that some were looking to demonise the poor.
He said: ‘When you are in coalition you can’t necessarily control the words used by another party.’
He added: ‘The demonisation of the poor, which has been going on there is no doubt about that, is extremely unhelpful to the nation and very unhelpful in getting through these changes which I think are necessary and helpful to the country.
‘And we will continue to fight that and continue in this government to restrain [the Conservatives] from doing things that are either damaging to those that least able to bear the burdens or infringing our civil liberties.’
Lord Ashdown, however, defended the government’s welfare reforms.
He said: ‘If you were to express the welfare changes about the feckless poor that’s not what they are about and I object to that and every Liberal Democrat does as well.
‘What we are trying to do is build a welfare system that gives the individual far more choice, far more power, the moving towards an individual package on welfare under the control of the individual.
‘I believe you should always try to give people a hand up before you give them a hand out.’
The government’s universal credit begins today with small number of payments in Ashton-under-Lyne, near Manchester. Under universal credit, a number of benefits including housing benefits are scrapped and replaced with a single payment made direct to the household. Further pilots in Warrington, Wigan and Oldham will start in July ahead of a roll out of the scheme nationally over four years from October.