Cameron sets out welfare reform

By staff

David Cameron finally laid out his ideas for tackling poverty in a keynote speech today.

The Tory leader expanded on the best-received section of his conference speech, in which he defined the Conservatives as the party best placed to tackle poverty.

In an important ideological move, Mr Cameron also reframed his previous statement that “there is such a thing as society, it’s just not the same thing as the state”.

The originally quote was a play on Margaret Thatcher’s comment that “there is no such thing as society”, and was intended to show clear blue water between the old Tories and the new.

“Our alternative to big government is not no government,” he said today.

“Our alternative to big government is the big society, but we understand that the big society is not just going to spring to life on its own: we need strong and concerted government action to make it happen. We need to use the state to remake society.”

Mr Cameron faced questions after his conference speech, which downplayed the role of the state, about how he would achieve poverty reduction. It is thought those concerns led him to address the topic directly today.

Mr Cameron also took up the traditional Tory attack on the current structure of welfare, saying young girls were being tacitly encouraged to have children so they could get housing and money.

The Tory leader used the annual Hugo Young lecture in London to match Labour’s commitment to ending child poverty and promised to reduce unemployment within five years.

All welfare programmes will be reviewed by a Tory government, and several of them scrapped.

Yvette Cooper, work and pensions secretary, told the Today programme: “If you look at David Cameron’s speech, we’ve been here before, this is a traditional right-wing view that the cause of poverty is government.”

Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman Steve Webb said: “When the Conservatives were in power they stood by as child poverty doubled. Why should anyone believe that they are now the right people to abolish it?

“The reason unemployment has risen so rapidly in the UK is not because people have suddenly become workshy but because the jobs are not there.

“These Tory plans for benefit reform will not do anything to change that.”