Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron has proposed scrapping rent subsidies for Britons under age 25, in a newspaper interview on Sunday that may heighten tension with his Conservative Party’s Liberal Democrat coalition partners.
Requiring almost 400,000 low-paid and unemployed young Britons to live with their parents if they cannot afford market rents could save just under 2 billion pounds a year, Cameron said in an interview with the Mail on Sunday.
Cameron’s comments came as Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, leader of more than 80 million Anglicans worldwide and a long-standing critic, accused him of “aspirational waffle designed to conceal a deeply damaging withdrawal of the state from its responsibilities to the most vulnerable”.
The Conservatives and the Lib Dems formed a coalition in May 2010, and have regular public disagreements, though weak ratings for both parties limit any incentive to end the coalition before elections must be held in 2015.
Earlier this week, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg opposed plans from education minister Michael Gove to reintroduce separate exams at age 16 for able and less able pupils, which were phased out in 1986, partly because they were viewed as reinforcing social divisions.
While Cameron said there would be exemptions to any ban on housing benefits for under-25s in special cases – such as domestic violence – he argued that the current benefits system reduced incentives for people to work.
“The system currently sends the signal you are better off not working, or working less. It encourages people not to work and have children, but we should help people to work and have children,” he was quoted as saying.
Britain’s unemployment rate stands at 8.2 percent – relatively low given the depth of its economic slump after the financial crisis – but for those aged 18-24 it is 19.9 percent.
The Mail on Sunday said Cameron also favoured forced community work for 5,000-10,000 people unemployed for more than 2 years who were deemed to be work-shy and unwilling to take part in training programs.
One of Cameron’s main themes in the 2010 election campaign was the “Big Society,” which aimed to encourage voluntary community work, and it was this that Williams decried as “aspirational waffle” in book extracts published on Sunday by the Observer.
Since the coalition took power, its major focus has been reducing Britain’s budget deficit, which peaked at over 156 billion pounds in 2009/10 or 11 percent of GDP.