Eric Pickles is one of the stars of the coalition; his Question Time car-crash during the expenses scandal when he attempted to explain that MPs were special and quite unlike ordinary people, and therefore needed shedloads more money and perks, has been all but forgotten. And whenever the coalition has struggled (which has been frequently) Eric has always come up with a press-hugging soundbite and austerity measure to shift the focus. And he's done it again today, with an announcement that councils must cut £500m annually from council tax benefits by targeting fraud and getting claimants back into work. Cue cheering etc.
But either Eric isn't being quite honest, or the MSM doesn't know anything about the system. Or a combination of both. For a start, the changes come into effect in 2013, when the current benefits system will be replaced by Universal Credit. HB / CTB is currently administered by councils which reclaim the amounts paid from central government; what Eric's proposing is that when HB is rolled-up into UC from 2013, leaving just CTB to be administered locally, rather than councils reclaiming actual CTB paid, they'll be given a block grant instead. And what about that £500m cut so lauded by readers of the Mail? Uhm, by coincidence it's exactly (£500,700,000) the annual amount paid to councils up until the 2013 switch for administering HB/CTB.
So the real announcement is far less sexy - that with effect from 2013 councils must find the costs of administering CTB either from within the block grant or from other revenue resources. But hey, why waste an opportunity for mendacity?