It was heartening at the beginning of the week to read headlines coupling "Bishops and Liberal Democrat Peers" in their alliance to block the benefits cap. Happy to see the party back on the side of,if not exactly the angels, at least their representatives on earth, as well as back on the side of rationality. Unfortunately this welcome sanity and consequent publicity, surely likely to make the party more attractive to all engaged professionally in the area, was spoiled by Clegg's appearing at least once on both radio and television, to say that he was in favour of a benefits cap.
It seems obvious to me that welfare payments should be based on need. Somebody somewhere has worked out what is the minimum necessary to provide one or a group of individuals a basic safety net. I suspect this provision will not be generous. To place an artificial cap on it, so that a group receives less than this basic minimum, is nonsensical and inconstant with either fairness or the standards of a civilised society.
If there is a "rip off" in this area I suspect it is not by families in difficulties but by landlords who charge exorbitant rents. The government would be on stronger ethical ground by tackling abuse in this area rather than pushing the most vulnerable in our society even further below the poverty line.
There is something rather sick about a government which bullies with such enthusiasm the weakest in society and yet seems content with ineffectual noises when it comes to tackling the excesses of the rich. One glaring example: the Chief Executive of RBS receives a salary of £1.2m and there is talk of giving him a bonus of a further £million - both sums beyond the wildest dreams of most of the rest of us. Since RBS is 83% publicly owned its Chief Executive is virtually a public servant and paid with taxpayer's money. Easy for the government to stop this abuse, but somehow there's another law when it comes to facing up to the those at the top rather then the bottom of the pile.
However, on the brighter side, Nick Clegg is expected today to call for an acceleration of rate at which the lowest earners are taken out of paying income tax. Whilst not helping the very poorest, those not in employment, this will provide some relief for the hard-pressed and, by stimulating demand, may through the Keynesian multiplier do something to promote growth and therefore employment.