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Attack on coalition over welfare

The coalition Government has come under a sustained attack for a raft of welfare reforms that critics claim are punishing the poor and hitting women hardest.

A senior child protection figure warned that record numbers of children would be taken away from their families as the impact of public-sector cuts and benefits changes hammered home.

Anthony Douglas, chief executive of Cafcass, the organisation that represents children in care cases, told the Independent he feared the number of cases could rise by up to 8%.

He added: "Given what we know about the association between poverty deprivation and care, the increase in economic difficulties can take away the margins of support for people who are just managing to keep things together.

"Often quite small amounts of support can make all the difference. So I think that there is a risk of underestimating the way in which this support can keep some families going."

Meanwhile, Labour claimed cuts to child benefit that came into effect at midnight, combined with a three-year benefits and tax credits squeeze, was a "huge assault" on millions of working families.

Research compiled by the Commons library for the shadow equalities minister Yvette Cooper shows 4.6 million women who receive child tax credit directly will be hit by a cap on welfare increases, according to the Guardian.

It comes as the Child Poverty Action Group published a report claiming changes to the way government is uprating benefits is a "poverty-producing" move that further hit the poorest.

The charity warns that while pensioners have been given a triple lock guarantee of a notable rise, the worst off will face a "double lockout" that "cuts them loose from the cost of living and the mainstream of society".

Chancellor George Osborne announced last year annual rises in most working-age benefits are to be capped at 1%, cutting a further 3.7 billion from the welfare bill, but insisted he would protect the vulnerable by continuing to increase carer benefits and disability benefits in line with inflation.

The charity warns levelling the cap over each of the next three years would amount to a 4% real terms cut in benefits on top of 18bn of already announced cuts.

It found welfare spending on workless families has been falling and warned under the changes absolute and relative child poverty will increase.

CPAG chief executive Alison Garnham said: "It's wrong to punish the poorest and most disadvantaged in our society by cutting social security protection every time growth targets are missed while the better-off are protected.

"It really would be politics of the worst kind if, as reported, this bill has been laid to create a political dividing line - we are talking about real lives, not political games.

"Depicting the neighbour with drawn curtains in the morning as a 'scrounger' to be scorned is a dangerous game to play. You may find it is a sick or disabled person, whose curtains are only drawn when their carer arrives, or a nurse who just got to bed after her night shift.

"This is a poverty-producing bill that does nothing to reduce the need for support."

Prime Minister David Cameron on Sunday defended cuts to child benefit payments, which will see families with one earner on more than 50,000 lose some or all of the payment while households with two parents with salaries just under the trigger keep theirs, insisting the move was "fundamentally fair".

Meanwhile, A former Liberal Democrat minister warned that she intended to defy the party leadership and vote against coalition plans to cap benefits.

Sarah Teather, who lost her job as children and families minister in the September reshuffle, said she would oppose proposals to limit rises for most working age benefits to 1% when they come to the Commons on Tuesday.

"As a constituency MP representing a very deprived area in London, I feel deeply anxious about the policy and I will be voting against the bill tomorrow, very reluctantly and with a very heavy heart," she said.

"I can't say I enjoy voting against the Government on these things."

Her comments represent a further blow to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg - particularly as they reflect concerns among many Lib Dem activists.

She also echoed Labour in warning that the measures would hit many working families on low incomes as well as those without jobs.

"We have a huge problem with in-work child poverty and we are only going to make this significantly worse by affecting those who are at the bottom end of the income spectrum," she said.

Ms Teather also attacked the way Chancellor George Osborne and other Conservative ministers had sought to characterise benefits claimants as "scroungers" who were unwilling to work.

"One the the things I feel particularly uncomfortable about is the setting up of these two groups - the supposed strivers versus scroungers. It's playground politics. I don't think it is really worthy of us," she said.

"To try to set these two groups up and drive envy and division between them, I don't think is very helpful for the country and it is not very enlightening for debate."

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