Newspaper review: Papers focus on benefit criticism

Papers

"Minister in bid to shift blame for IT fiasco" is the lead in the Times which says Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan-Smith faces scathing criticism from Parliament's Public Accounts Committee for "squandering" £140m of taxpayers' money on part of the Universal Credit welfare programme.

The Times claims Mr Duncan-Smith tried to blame the failings on a senior civil servant, although a spokesman for the minister denies this.

"Once again officials have been named and ministers have not," a Conservative source tells the Guardian, and adds that "that will make uncomfortable reading".

According to the Sun the report points to a "shocking absence of control" over IT suppliers - with secretaries signing off multi-million pound orders.

The Daily Telegraph reports on a row about the publication of records of conversations of Gordon Brown and Tony Blair with former US president George W Bush - and says this has further delayed the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq War.

The paper says the wrangle with Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood has been going on for five months and means that progress has been "stalled indefinitely".

House prices

"Was Yasser Arafat murdered?" asks the Independent, after a Swiss forensic report suggested the former Palestinian leader could have been poisoned with polonium.

The Guardian has spoken to Mr Arafat's widow, Suha, who tells the paper she remembers how her husband was "shrinking at the hospital, how in his eyes there were a lot of questions".

But, says the paper, the findings do not prove that Israel murdered Mr Arafat.

And it suggests the international community will have little enthusiasm for anything that could disrupt the delicate Middle East peace process.

The Daily Express says home-owners are benefiting from the fastest rise in property prices for three years - with average values rocketing by almost £13,000 in the past 12 months.

One estate agent tells the paper: "Price rises are being driven by an incongruous but potent mix of confidence and fear."

Royal visit

The Daily Mail has details of a report showing that at £60bn a year Britons pay higher property taxes than any other country in the developed world.

Charges such as stamp duty, council tax, capital gains and inheritance tax are worth, the paper says, 4.1% of Britain's economic output compared with only 0.9% in Germany.

The Council of Mortgage Lenders tells the Daily Telegraph that the rising property market is leading to what it calls "fiscal drag" where more and more buyers are pushed into higher tax bands because ministers have not increased stamp duty thresholds.

Several of the papers carry photographs of the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall draped with garlands as they visit Rishikesh on the Ganges in northern India.

"Charles mellows in his hippy moment," says the Times, which muses that in February 1968 - when The Beatles went to meditate with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi - Prince Charles was still at Cambridge and "about as straight a young man as it was possible to be in the era of flower power".

Now, says the paper, the prince has shown that even at the age of 64 "it's not too late for him to indulge his inner hippy".

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