Asked whether the Government was planning to cut the benefits of people who have been accused of rioting, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman, (PMS), said that the Government was looking at a range of things that it might do, as the Prime Minister had set out earlier in the morning. The PMS said that the Home Secretary and the Work and Pensions Secretary were looking specifically at the issue of gangs and gang culture and the Government would report on that work in the Autumn. The PMS added that people have their benefits removed if they are put in prison, and the issue that the Government was looking at was whether or not there was a case for removing benefits from people if they receive non-custodial sentences. The PMS said he would not pre-empt the work which was underway. It would look at the best response to what had happened over the past week and in particular the issue of gang culture and gang violence which police believed was significant in the disorder.
Asked whether the Prime Minister recognised there was a danger in removing benefits from people in that it could fuel more crime, the PMS responded that no changes to this policy had been announced as yet and that the Government was considering the best way of responding to the problem we had seen. The PMS added that the Government had announced two policy changes, one was on police powers with respect to facemasks, and the other was the extension of gang injunctions to people under the age of 18. The PMS added that these were both announced in the Prime Minister’s statement last Thursday.
Asked about extending sanctions to people who don’t find work when they are asked to, the PMS stated that the Prime Minister spoke in his speech about reforms that the Government was making to the welfare system to encourage people to work. The PMS added that reforms to the welfare system were underway. The PMS said that the objective to all of the changes to the welfare system was to encourage people into work and if they were able to work, they should work.
Asked whether the policy changes on facemasks and gang injunctions would require legislation, the PMS replied that they would and that the Government would look at an appropriate vehicle to make those changes. Asked whether such legislation might be introduced when the House returns in September, the PMS said that this was a possibility however the Government had not set out a timetable.
Asked whether the work that the Home Secretary and the Work and Pensions Secretary were doing on gangs would look at gangs in every area or whether it would be specific to Manchester or London, the PMS referred to the Prime Minister’s speech from earlier in the day where the Prime Minister said there were different things going on in different parts of the country. The PMS added that the feedback from the police was that gangs were an important issue in the disturbances last week.
Asked whether the Prime Minister agreed with the Mayor of London’s suggestion that judges should be given powers to send underage offenders to Pupil Referral Units, the PMS replied that there would be a lot of suggestions on how to deal with these issues and that they would be considered as part of the work the Government was undertaking.
Asked what the Prime Minister meant when he said he would put rocket boosters under the programme to help families, the PMS replied that the Government had asked Emma Harrison to do some work looking at how we helped the most troubled families in the country, 120,000 of them. The PMS added that those families already have a lot of contact with the State, whether through social workers or the police, local Government or other agencies and a huge amount of money was spent on dealing with their problems and the problems they can create. The PMS said that the Government was looking at whether there was a more effective type of intervention that is more targeted on the family rather than having lots of agencies and arms of government doing different things.
Asked whether the Prime Minister would be writing to all Government Departments to ensure that policies were family-tested, the PMS said that whether the Government was looking at the issue of gang culture, some of the social issues that may contribute to this kind of problem or a breakdown of the family, these were all issues that the work of several Departments would have an impact on. The PMS added that the PM was making clear to Departments that he attaches importance to these issues and setting the direction for departments.
Asked how the Prime Minister would ensure that this work was happening, the PMS said that a review was underway and the Government would be reporting on that in October. The PMS added that people would be able to hold the Government to account at that stage to see what progress had been made.
Asked whether the Prime Minister thought that cutting help towards childcare was consistent with his policy of supporting families, the PMS said that the Prime Minister thought that these problems would not be solved by just throwing more money at them. The PMS added that the country had a record deficit that the Government had to tackle and that the Government had to make choices about how to do this, the reasoning for which had been set out in the Comprehensive Spending Review.
Asked whether the Prime Minister was concerned that he may have offended the overwhelming majority of single-parent families who very successfully bring up children, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister made clear in his speech earlier in the day that the problem should not over-simplified. It was a complicated problem, which is why it would require a cross-Government response.
Asked whether the Prime Minister thought that all 16 year olds should be involved in the National Citizenship Service, the PMS said that Prime Minister had set out an ambition saying that if businesses and charities and schools and social enterprises worked together, it could be made available to all 16 year olds. Asked whether this would be made compulsory, the PMS replied that it would not.
Asked whether the Prime Minister was satisfied that the Bill Bratton issue was now settled, the PMS said that the criteria for the post of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner stated that applicants needed to be British citizens, which Bill Bratton was not.
Credit ratings agencies
Asked how much credence the Prime Minister and Chancellor give to credit ratings agencies, the PMS replied that credit ratings agencies provide analysis and information to markets. Put that the policies of various governments were predicated on making sure that their credit rating was not downgraded, the PMS responded that ultimately the issue was whether people were willing to lend money to particular Governments. The PMS added that they were increasingly less willing to lend money to certain Governments and that this was reflected in the high interest rates faced by those countries.
50p tax rate
Asked whether the Prime Minister thought the 50p tax rate should be scrapped, the PMS responded that tax decisions were taken by the Chancellor in budgets and added that in the budget earlier this year, the Treasury had said that they had asked the Office for Budget Responsibility to look at the revenues being raised by the 50p rate and that this work was ongoing.
Asked whether we were at the tipping point in Libya, the PMS responded that we had seen some progress over the weekend which was welcome. The PMS added that the Government had been saying for some time that it thought the NATO operation was proving successful in eroding Qadhaffi’s ability to wage war against his own people. The PMS said that Britain would continue to apply that pressure and would be patient and persistent until Qadhaffi stopped brutalising his people.
Put that this weekend was the second anniversary of the release of the Lockerbie bomber and asked whether the Prime Minister would support his re-incarceration, the PMS said that at moment the Government was completely focussed on applying pressure to the Qadhaffi regime.