Benefits 'jackpot', 'boring' Brit Awards, store wars and a hosepipe ban

  • 10 January 2014

Stories about social welfare payments make the front pages of several papers.

The Guardian suggests a "blunder" by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has meant up to 40,000 people were wrongly identified as being liable to have their housing benefit reduced under rules penalising those in social housing who are deemed to have more bedrooms than they need.

The government puts the number affected closer to 5,000 but the paper says some people "face eviction or have been forced to move to a smaller property". Thousands of people could now be due refunds, it says.

However, the Daily Mail praises the DWP for finding a "cap that fits", in the form of the £26,000 limit on the total annual sum households can claim in benefits. It says the policy is saving the Treasury £2m a week.

"Crucially, at least 19,000 households faced with having their benefits cut as a result of the cap have now found a job," says the Mail's editorial. "The question for ministers is how many more people could be encouraged back to work by lowering the cap to a still generous £20,000 a year?"

"Cappy days," says the Sun, printing a breakdown of the number of people affected in each region, and revealing that 59 households have had their payments trimmed by £400 or more a week. Its leader column translates the saving from the 1,300 biggest claimants into 700 nurses' salaries. "But more than the money, the reforms will help break down the dependency culture that is such a threat to Britain's future prosperity," it adds.

Not-so neighbourly?

Image copyright various

Another set of benefits - "pensioners' perks" such as winter fuel allowance, bus passes and TV licences - have caused a "rare disagreement" between the prime minister and George Osborne, according to the Independent. The chancellor, it says, is unhappy with David Cameron saying he was "minded to keep" the benefits and wanted the pledge restricted to the current parliament.

Despite Downing Street denying a rift, the paper relives the "No 10 v No 11" battles of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Margaret Thatcher and Nigel Lawson, and Harold Macmillan and Selwyn Lloyd.

Reviewing the papers for the BBC News Channel, broadcaster David Davies said: "Conventional wisdom has always been that upsetting the so-called grey vote is bad politics but maybe in this generation George Osborne knows something that the rest of us don't." Fellow broadcaster Jennie Bond added: "George has got it right on this one. If you're a pensioner and you're paying 40% tax, you shouldn't be getting these perks. It doesn't make sense."

Noting the discord between Mr Osborne and his Liberal Democrat coalition partners over the chancellor's desire to make further cuts to benefits, The Times urges the politicians to "resist the urge to spend the next year and a half on the campaign trail".

Its editorial says the Conservative Party must "show it is more interested in the country than in itself", while the Lib Dems must "understand that working against their current coalition directly hampers their chances of ever being in another".

Cartoonist Bob, in the Daily Telegraph, captures the overtures being made by Labour's Ed Balls towards the junior coalition partners by picturing the shadow chancellor and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg gazing at each other over a railway carriage table. The sketch is titled "7:39 to Westminster" - a twist on the BBC drama about romance on a train.

No charisma?

Image copyright AFP

The Times marvels at the "staying power" of One Direction - the current teenyboppers' five-piece of choice - who, it says, seem not to have been told that "the life span of the average boy band is matched by that of the mayfly".

They've been nominated for Best Single and Best British Group at the Brits and are a foregone conclusion for the Global Success Award and Best British Video, the paper says.

For the Guardian, it's the veteran David Bowie - nominated for Best British Solo Artist - who "stands out among youthful nominees". But its critic Alexis Petridis struggles to find charisma among the talent of Arctic Monkeys, Disclosure and Rudimental.

The Brits, he says, "sets out to prove that British rock and pop music is the most exciting in the world... and without fail contrives to suggest the opposite".

'Store wars'

Britain's leading High Street chains were left "short on cheer" after mixed Christmas sales, reports the Financial Times, which says they lost out to German discounters, like Lidl and Aldi, and online retailers.

The paper contrasts the fortunes of Waitrose and Next, which reported an increase in like-for-like sales, with those - such as Morrisons and M&S - suffering "dire trading" as a result of being slower to develop an online presence.

The Sun speculates as to who will be the first chief executive "for the chop", printing odds on the bosses of Tesco, M&S and Morrisons.

Guardian financial editor Nils Pratley sees the big stores suffering "squeezed middle syndrome" but they can still learn new tricks, adding: "A generation ago, they trounced the last set of discounters, such as Kwik Save. The current middle-class obsession with Aldi might fade if wages ever start to outstrip inflation again."

Telegraph cartoonist Matt captures the tough retail climate by sketching a man telling a cashier: "I bought this 5p carrier bag before Christmas and I'd like to return it."

As a result of the poor trading, the Daily Mirror foresees "store wars" with supermarket discounts resulting in a "bonanza for shoppers but hammering the firms' profits". Business editor Graham Hiscott says: "If you thought competition was already cut-throat, it is set to get even more brutal."

After the flood

Image copyright PA
Image caption Numerous roads - including many in and around Oxford - have flooded

The Guardian visits storm-battered Aberystwyth to find the seaside town "bustling" and full of optimism, despite a "wonky beach shelter, a smashed prom" and a road left "a mess of gritty sand, broken pavement and twisted metal railings" by the weather.

Cookham, Berkshire - where Kenneth Grahame wrote the Wind in the Willows - is described by the Times as "virtually cut off" by floodwater from the River Thames. It uses the headline: "It's Ratty weather and more to come."

"Get ready for the Big Freeze," warns the Daily Express, which predicts temperatures of -10C (14F) next week. The Daily Mirror expects the same but says: "At least it's not as bad as the US..." next to a photograph of a frozen Niagara Falls.

Given the conditions, the Daily Star is astonished by a European Commission report suggesting the UK could be in for severe droughts as a result of climate change. "No joke... Get ready for hosepipe bans," it warns.

Making people click

Guardian: Mein Kampf becomes an ebook bestseller

Daily Mirror: Death by wedgie: Stepdad suffocates after underpants pulled over his head

Daily Telegraph: Security alert in southern Russia as bodies found in bomb-rigged cars

The Times: Celebrity watch: repurposing Shia LaBeouf

Financial Times: China overtakes US as world's largest goods trader