Bonfire of the bills: Tory press hails scrapping tax credits and Child Poverty Act

Newspapers throw kindling on the fire and justify the cuts to come


Fears that after the general election the right-wing press would cheerlead for every Tory policy, however awful, were realised almost instantly.

First it was their ‘war on the BBC’ mere days after the vote. Then they urged repeal of the Human Rights Act at the earliest convenience. (It must have been embarrassing to see David Cameron drop this from the Queen’s speech. Either way, the same newspapers helpfully dropped the subject too.)

Today it’s the turn of tax credits and the Child Poverty Act. 

The Daily Mail complains about the cost of tax credits, especially on fraudulent claims or credits awarded by mistake, (which it puts at £17billion over ten years).

Even if we grant this figure, (arrived at by the Mail itself), since the government spends £30billion on tax credits each year, that’s £17billion out of £300billion – all of 5.6 per cent. 

This hardly seems like a reason to scrap the whole thing.

Yet the Mail’s editorial pages seem to beckon just that, calling tax credits ‘A discredited subsidy’:

“Of all Labour’s legacies, among the most poisonous are Gordon Brown’s hugely complex tax credits, which have made 4.5million families part-dependent on the state…”

The editorial even seeks to discredit objections (‘howls from the Left, accusing the Tories of hammering society’s most vulnerable..’) before the reading public has heard them being made.

The Mail also commissions a former aid to the prime minister, Steve Hilton, to make a ‘compassionate conservative’ case for taking the axe to tax credits.

Meanwhile, the Murdoch-owned Times has the Child Poverty Act in its sights.

A front page story presents Mr Cameron’s view of matters, saying this ‘absurd law on children in poverty will be axed’.

The paper even dedicates a leader column to the flaws of the Act, calling repeal ‘a timely decision’.

(There is reason to believe the Times coverage followed a late briefing or notification from Downing Street. A piece on the Kurds (p31) directs readers to a leading article on p29 that doesn’t exist. Perhaps it was spiked for this one?)

The two targets are of course related. If tax credits are cut, (as may be necessary if the government wants to find £12billion of welfare ‘savings’), or scrapped altogether, child poverty will certainly increase, as it has done under this government already.

And if the method of measurement shows the wrong results, this government would rather change the measurement than change its policies.

How fortunate ministers must feel to have a press that will prepare its readers to accept and perhaps support whatever the government does – and to throw kindling on the fire.

Adam Barnett is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow MediaWatch on Twitter

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