Campbell Pledges To Tackle Poverty

Sir Menzies Campbell will make a grab for Labour’s traditional heartlands as he pledges to make the fight against poverty central to the Liberal Democrats’ approach. The party leader will launch an assault on Gordon Brown’s means-tested benefits in a deliberate strategy to take on the Chancellor in preparation for the next General Election.

Alongside a benefits shake-up, he will also risk angering one-parent families by suggesting they should return to work when their youngest child is 12, rather than 16.

Sir Menzies will tell the Institute of Public Policy Research: “I am determined to take the fight for a fairer Britain into the mainstream of British politics, and into the heartlands of the Labour Party. The Liberal Democrats must be a party not only of the affluent and compassionate middle class, but of those struggling to make ends meet.”

In the first of a series of speeches on social justice, he will say that Mr Brown’s “mass means-testing” is undermining work, savings and families while creating a culture of dependency.

In a series of ideas to form the basis of a report next year, Sir Menzies will call for an end to tax incentives for couples with children to split up and cutting the number of benefits from 50 to 25.

He will also suggest increasing child benefit for all children to the level of the firstborn. This would remove 300,000 from poverty at a cost of £1.7 billion. Sir Menzies will commit the Lib Dems to the Government’s goal of ending child poverty by 2020, while improving child literacy and numeracy and halving the number claiming incapacity benefit.

On the issue of lone parents returning to work, he will say: “We ought to ask whether we should make changes to a benefit system that provides very little incentive or support for lone parents to return to work until their youngest child is 16 years old.”