One very big question remains about the Conservatives' plans: how they would reduce the benefit bill by £12bn in two years, as they say they will? Tonight, the Guardian has spelled out some of the options which civil servants have been pondering. This is no-one's manifesto, but it shows up the £12bn question.
I thought it was worth explaining why this issue won't die.
First, there is a simple credibility issue with basing your plans on cutting benefit spending: the coalition's social security reductions have not come in as planned. I think voters deserve to know more so we can assess their credibility (I made a film about this, which you can see here).
Second, I also thought it was worth trying to help you visualise how big the hole is. Below, I have included a list of past measures, all passed by the coalition, which yielded £9bn of benefit spending reductions per year two years out.
Why £9bn and not £12bn? The Tories have announced indexing changes for working-age benefits and hope they would bring in around £3bn. As a result, I've also removed coalition freezes and so on, since they're already baked in.
This is not a prediction, of course. Not least since you can't remove child benefit from families with higher-rate taxpayers again. It's already gone. But I just hope to give you a sense of the scale of the gap. £9bn is real money.
Each measure starts with the year it was introduced. I also deliberately chose the biggest yielding changes over a two-year horizon to get us there with as few measures as possible. They're listed in order by the name of the key benefit group. Altogether, this gets you to £8.6bn:
- Autumn 2010 - Child Benefit: remove from families with a higher rate taxpayer from January 2013
- Autumn 2011 - Child Tax Credit: remove over-indexation
- Budget 2010 #2 - Child Tax Credit: Remove the baby element from 2011-12
- Budget 2010 #2 - Child Tax Credit: Reverse the supplement for children aged one and two from 2012-13
- Budget 2010 #2 - Child Tax Credit: Taper the family element immediately after the child element from 2012-13
- Autumn 2010 - Contributory Employment and Support Allowance: time limit for those in the Work Related Activity Group to one year
- Budget 2010 #2 - Council Tax: reduction to receipts due to a one year freeze in 2011-12
- Budget 2010 #2 - Deductions for non-dependents: reverse previous freezes and maintaining link with prices from 2011-12
- Autumn 2010 - Disability Living Allowance: remove mobility components for claimants in residential care
- Autumn 2013 - DWP fraud: sharing RTI data
- Budget 2010 #2 - First and second withdrawal rates: increase to 41% in 2011-12
- Autumn 2013 - Freezing work allowances (disregards) in Universal Credit
- Budget 2010 #2 - Health in Pregnancy Grant: Abolish Budget 2013 Health interventions
- Autumn 2013 - Help to work: benefit savings
- Autumn 2010 - Housing Benefit: increase age limit for shared room rate from 25 to 35
- Autumn 2012 - Housing Benefit: increase Local Housing Allowance by 1% for two years from 2014-15 with provision for high rent areas
- Autumn 2013 - Income Tax: transferable marriage allowance
- Budget 2010 #2 - Introduce an income disregard of £2,500 for falls in income from 2012-13
- Budget 2010 #2 - Local Housing Allowance: caps on maximum rates for each property size, with 4-bed limit from 2011-12
- Budget 2010 #2 - Local Housing Allowance: set at the 30th percentile of local rents from 2011-12
- Budget 2010 #2 - Lone parent benefits: extend conditionality to those with children aged 5 and above from October 2011
- Autumn 2014 - Reduce migrant access to benefits
- Budget 2010 #2 - New claims and changes of circumstances: Reduce backdating from 3 months to 1 month from 2012-13
- Autumn 2013 - Overseas life certificates: extension
- Autumn 2013 - Pension credit passthrough
- Budget 2014 - Personal allowance: increase to £10,500 in 2015-16 with equal gains to higher rate taxpayers
- Autumn 2012 - Personal allowance: increase by £235 to £9,440 in 2013-14, with equal gains to higher rate taxpayers
- Budget 2013 - Personal allowance: increase by an additional £560 to £10,000 in 2014-15
- Budget 2010 #2 - Reduce the income disregard from £25,000 to £10,000 for 2 years from 2011-12 then to £5,000 in 2013-14
- Budget 2014 - Restrictions on migrants' access to benefits Budget 2014 Restrictions on migrants' access to benefits
- Autumn 2010 - Savings Credit: freeze maximum award for four years from 2011-12
- Budget 2013 - Single-tier: impact of reform on state pension and pensioners benefits
- Budget 2010 #2 - Sure Start Maternity Grant: apply to first child only from 2011-12
- Budget 2010 #2 - Tax credits second income threshold: reduce to £40,000 in 2011-12
- Autumn 2013 - Tax credits: annual entitlement
- Autumn 2012 - Tax Credits: error and fraud
- Autumn 2013 - Tax credits: improving collection and administration
- Autumn 2012 - Tax Credits: recovering debt
- Autumn 2013 - Winter Fuel Payments: overseas eligibility
- Autumn 2010 - Working Tax Credit: increase working hours requirement for couples with children to 24 hours
- Autumn 2010 - Working Tax Credit: reduce payable costs through childcare element from 80% to 70% restoring 2006 rate
- Budget 2010 #2 - Working Tax Credit: Remove the 50 plus element from 2012-13
That's why reporters keep asking about it.