David Cameron will reduce the annual benefits cap to £23,000 as the first act of a new Conservative Government, the Prime Minister has pledged in an interview with The Telegraph.
The move follows the “stampede to the job centre” caused by the original introduction of the £26,000 benefits cap which was heavily opposed by Labour and will form one of the key battlegrounds of the general election campaign.
In an interview to mark 100 days until the general election, Mr Cameron said that his reform of the welfare system is a “deeply progressive programme” that is “changing people’s lives”.
The policy will pay for three million apprenticeships and everyone in Britain is given “the chance to make the most of their God-given talents”, the Prime Minister said.
Mr Cameron said that the promise of an immediate law after May’s election “tells you everything you need to know about our values”.
In a wide-ranging interview, Mr Cameron also:
* Warned that an Ed Miliband government could be “held hostage” by the SNP, a prospect which he said voters find “genuinely frightening”.
* Hinted at further tax cuts for families after the election.
* Described Mr Miliband as “opportunistic” and “sanctimonious” after he said that he wanted to “weaponise” the NHS.
* Said he is “sure” there is a role for Boris Johnson at the “highest level in government”.
* Warned that the economic unrest in Greece shows why people should not “risk” electing a Labour government intent on “scrapping the plan” which has led to the economic recovery.
In a pre-election salvo designed to open up further dividing lines with Labour over welfare, Mr Cameron said that the benefits cuts have changed the “something for nothing” culture which existed under the last government.
“The benefit cap has been a success. It’s got a lot of people back to work,” Mr Cameron said. “People said it would have all sorts of bad consequences – it hasn’t. It’s actually caused a stampede to the job centre.”
He added: “In the remaining 100 days before the election, we’ve got to get across to people how these long-term reforms are beginning to show positive effects. Whether it’s reforming pensions, welfare, education, dealing with the deficit, funding universities, building infrastructure – these are all things that are going to make our country stronger.
“We’ve got to go all out now to explain, stress, that this is based on a vision about a stronger, more secure country.”
Lowering the cap will save taxpayers £135million a year. The apprenticeships plan will cost around £300million a year, Downing Street said.
The rest of the money will be paid for by removing housing benefit from jobless 18 to 21-year-olds.
The proposed cap of £23,000 is equivalent to a pre-tax salary of around £29,300 in 2015/16.
Mr Cameron added: “This is about being ambitious for Britain. We can give many more young people the chance to get on. We can help people into work and out of poverty. We can secure a better future for everyone in Britain – but only if we stick to our long-term plan.”
Asked how the election of the far-Left Syriza party in Greece could influence people’s vote in the UK, Mr Cameron said: “Don’t risk [the economic recovery].
“People will take a risk when you’re facing failure. But when it’s becoming increasingly clear that we’ve got strong economic growth, jobs being created, Britain a destination for investment, rising living standards – when those things are clear don’t risk it by scrapping the plan.
“Particularly when the people who are asking you to scrap the plan are the people who got us into the mess in the first place. And the things that they are suggesting – borrowing, spending, debt are exactly the things that got us into trouble in the first place.”
With growing speculation about Mr Cameron’s successor as leader of the Conservatives, he said that he is “delighted” that people in the party want to “put themselves forward”.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, Boris Johnson, the London Mayor, George Osborne, the Chancellor, and Sajid Javid, the Culture Secretary, have all be touted as future leaders when Mr Cameron steps down.
“I’m delighted that the Conservative Party has a strong team of leaders and if I was run over by a bus – hopefully after I’ve completed my work – the Conservative Party has some very talented people both at the top and coming through the ranks,” Mr Cameron said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. You need people who are dedicated to public service who want to put themselves forward.”
Mr Cameron also gave his strongest hint yet that Mr Johnson, who is standing as an MP at the election, will be given a senior Cabinet role after his return to Parliament.
Mr Cameron said: “I think he’s got a lot to offer. I think he’s been a very good mayor and I’m sure there’s work for him to do at the highest level in government.”