About 9 minutes into the debate, Vince said this:
‘We‘ve spelt out very specifically, the only one of the three parties to do so, £15b of cuts we think have to be made. Painful and difficult, it involves discipline in public sector pay, looks at key areas of welfare services: getting rid of the child trust fund and child benefit for very high earners…’
This is not the first time he has proposed this policy. In a paper published by Reform in September 2009, he stated the following:
‘It is certainly incongruous to many people that the very rich receive child benefit. The IFS estimates that £5 billion or more could be saved by no longer making child benefit universal. The implication, however, of the tapering of child tax credit and the loss of universal child benefit, would be a loss of income for some middle income families. Such a reform would be easier to make if income tax were cut for standard rate payers. I favour making this reform in principle, but more work needs to be done on how to manage offsetting tax cuts.’
The position appeared to be backed by Nick Clegg in an interview in the Guardian, 19 September 2009.
‘I find it odd that people on multi-million pay packages from the city get child benefit. That's patently silly and patently unfair.’
However, during the Lib Dem party conference, the policy was ruled out (and mocked) by its DWP spokesman, Steve Webb:
“We’ve been able to conduct the review speedily over the last 24 hours – and I am pleased to say that the policy won’t be changing. I read…..we were going to look at ‘middle class child benefit’. I have looked at it – and I have rejected it.”
And on 7 March, Nick Clegg made it clear that he no longer thought it ‘patently silly and patently unfair’ that ‘people on multi-million pay packages from the city get child benefit’ but actually rather important when he said:
"We will not question the universality of child benefit. There are some benefits – and child benefit is one of them – I think it is quite important that everyone feels they have a stake in."
And child benefit is not listed amongst the cuts proposed by the Liberal Democrats.
So does Vince Cable not know what his own policy is? Or was he deliberately opposing his own party by pursuing his personal policy? Either way, if either George Osborne or Alistair Darling had done this, we would be hearing a lot more about it today.