POLITICS
16/07/2013 08:21 BST | Updated 16/07/2013 08:23 BST

Mehdi's Morning Memo: The War Over Welfare, Part 78

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LONDON - NOVEMBER 6: A photo illustration of a child benefit form, November 6, 2012 in London, England. The British Government are thought to be considering proposals to limit child benefit to a family's first two children in an effort to save on the welfare bill. (Photo by Getty Images)

The five things you need to know on Tuesday 16 July 2013...

1) THE WAR OVER WELFARE, PART 78

The day after the benefit cap rolled out, and Iain Duncan Smith came under fire for his evidence-free claims, the Tories aren't backing down. In fact, they're ramping up the war over welfare and their strategy of portraying Labour as the party of shirkers and scroungers.

The Times splash headline says it all: "Tories plan new assault on welfare handouts."

The paper says: "George Osborne is considering a further lowering of the amount households can receive in benefits as Tory MPs press him to reduce a newly-imposed cap by another £6,000. A limit of £26,000 a year was imposed on claimants yesterday, but... Mr Osborne's aides confirmed yesterday that the Treasury was preparing to reduce the cap once it was shown to work, to drive home what the Conservatives consider a key advantage over Labour..."

On its front page, the Mail goes with "No benefit for your third child if you're on the dole."

The paper reports:

"Child-related benefits for the jobless should be capped at two children, the Tory party chairman declared last night.

"The move would put them in the same position as working parents who cannot afford to have large families, Grant Shapps argued. Unemployed parents who then choose to have more than two children 'will know that welfare is not going to fund that choice'... In another proposal, the minister said under-25s who are unemployed should be denied housing benefit, so they have to live with their parents rather than be funded by the taxpayer to move to a place of their own."

The Independent splashes on: "Tories prepare to get tougher still on teenage single mothers."

Have we gone back in time? The paper reports:

"Recommendations that teenage mothers should no longer automatically be entitled to council housing or housing benefit, as part of a new drive to reduce teen pregnancy, have been welcomed by David Cameron in a report by Conservative MPs.

"The 40 proposals, to be published later this week, come from the 40 Group - the Tories who hold the 40 most marginal seats in Parliament."

Will Labour stand up to this cynical and shameless attempt by the Tories to use social security as a political football, to demonise the poorest, most vulnerable members of our society and try and punish them for a (financial) crisis they did not cause? Not likely - the shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne yesterday slammed the coalition's benefit cap for not being tough enough. Oh dear...

2) WE'RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER? WELL, UM, ER, NOT THE BANKERS

As benefit claimants have their benefits capped, cut, restricted and 'reformed', the bankers who caused the crisis continue to dust themselves off with taxpayers' cash and pay themselves eye-watering bonuses. Especially here in the UK.

My HuffPost colleague Asa Benn reports:

"There are more than 2,400 bankers in Britain earning in excess of of €1 million, over three times more than the rest of the European Union combined, according to new official data.

"The figures on banker salaries means the UK has 14 times as many top-earners in finance as Germany, who have a mere 170, and 15 times more than France, who have just 162. There's a grand total of 3,175 high-earning bankers - but break it down and you discover that the UK's 2,436-strong total of millionaire bankers is several times bigger than the 739 across the rest of the EU as a whole."

Lots of right-wing voices - the Telegraph's Toby Young, among them - have been harrumphing that there's nothing wrong with big bonuses and that we should be proud to be home to so many bonus-hungry bankers.

The problem with this line of argument - aside from the sheer unfairness of the situation - is that there is plenty of evidence to suggest that excessive pay in the financial sector is what helped cause the crash. In the UK, the former chairman of the Financial Services Authority, Adair Turner has claimed that "inappropriate incentive structures played a role in encouraging behaviour which contributed to the financial crisis". In the United States, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission concluded that "Lehman's failure resulted in part from significant problems in its corporate governance, . . . exacerbated by compensation to its executives . . . that was based predominantly on short-term profits".

Do we really want to stand by and watch as history repeats itself?

3) '13,300 MORE DEATHS'

From the BBC:

"Standards of care at 14 hospital trusts with the worst death rates in England are to be laid bare in a report later.

"An investigation was launched earlier this year after the public inquiry into the Stafford Hospital scandal.

"... Prof Sir Brian Jarman, an expert on mortality rates who contributed to the report, told the BBC that seven years of data, from 2005 to 2012, had been examined.

"'We found there were about 13,300 more deaths than you would have expected if those hospitals had the national death rates,' he said."

The Guardian reports:

A "hit squad" will be parachuted by the health secretary into five hospital trusts and six others will be put into special measures in an effort to urgently improve patient care in parts of the NHS which have reported high death rates.

Jeremy Hunt is expected to announce the moves on Tuesday as part of his response to a five-month inquiry into unusually high mortality rates at 14 hospital trusts across England. The inquiry has uncovered poor care and poor leadership or both at 11 of the trusts.

The paper adds:

"Tories were also planning to train their fire on the shadow health secretary Andy Burnham, saying he had been responsible for the NHS between 2009 and 2010, and failed to act at the time on the evidence of failure.

"Burnham argues that the record demonstrates he never sought to suppress any report at the time, and that it is becoming clear that the government is involved in an increasingly open campaign to undermine public faith in the NHS, and so remove the issue from the next election."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of Alex the break-dancing dog.

4) THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPERS

First the Public Accounts Committee, under the leadership of the redoubtable Margaret Hodge MP, went for Google, Starbucks and Amazon over tax; then they went for the heir to the throne. I guess, as the saying goes, the bigger they are...

From the Guardian:

"Prince Charles has been accused by an MP of "dodging around for tax purposes" during a testy select committee hearing in which the heir to the throne's most senior aides were grilled by members of the Commons public accounts committee over his financial affairs.

"The allegation was made in a series exchanges on Monday between MPs and William Nye, the Prince of Wales's principal private secretary, who defended corporation and capital gains tax exemptions enjoyed by his boss's £847m hereditary Duchy of Cornwall estate.

"Nye was repeatedly questioned as to why the Duchy was not a corporation, even though it has a head who is effectively a chief executive, it buys and sells assets and has trademarks. Its legal status is that it is a private estate.

"... 'You are really dodging around for tax purposes,' said Austin Mitchell MP. '[You say] it is not a corporation, but it is.'"

Pow!

5) SUMMER OF LOVE

Cameroons 1. Backwoodsmen 0. From the Times:

"Britain's first gay wedding is on track for next summer after same-sex marriage legislation was approved by peers. Some members of the House of Lords wore pink carnations on their final day of debate on the Bill yesterday. With the final stages in the Commons expected to be little more than a formality, the Bill is due to receive Royal Assent in the next few days."

It wasn't easy, though - and the (political) battle may not be over. As my HuffPost colleague Ned Simons reports:

"The Bill had a turbulent time in both the Commons and the Lords - with a significant number of MPs and peers voicing fierce opposition.

"At it's second reading on the Commons a majority of Tory MPs voted against the Bill, leaving David Cameron reliant on Lib Dem and Labour votes to ensure its continued passage.

"... Opponents of gay marriage warned reform would "come back to bite" Cameron. The Coalition for Marriage campaign group said it would mobilise a 700,000-strong support base in next year's European elections and the general election of 2015.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

The Tories, according to the latest Guardian/ICM survey, have their best poll results since March 2012 and are neck and neck with Labour:

Labour 36

Conservatives 36

Ukip 13

Lib Dems 7

That would give us a hung parliament, with Labour as the largest single party, five seats short of a majority.

But what, what's this? The latest Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 40

Conservatives 31

Ukip 11

Lib Dems 11

That would give Labour a majority of 96.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@jreedmp So Hunt briefs @guardian on my hospital trust re: Keogh but won't answer my letters from last month re: staff shortages. Appalling. Typical.

@JananGanesh Odd thing about NHS worship is that the system has been in constant (necessary) reform for 20 yrs. There isn't a pure model to defend.

@OwenJones84 Give Iain Duncan Smith some slack. If you were constantly exposed for introducing policies based on nonsense stats, you'd get grouchy too

900 WORDS OR MORE

Former Cameron adviser Sean Worth, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Labour must bear the blame for the shameful decline of the NHS."

Rachel Sylvester, writing in the Times, says: "Using NHS as a football will be a Tory own goal."

George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian, says: "Noble sentiments about individual liberty are being used to bend democracy to the will of the tobacco industry."

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol