Stats row highlights the major debate over welfare cuts

Planned changes to benefits, including Jobseeker's Allowance, are to be debated in Westminster next Tuesday. Photo: Press Association

Politicians in Westminster have kicked off the new year with another row over statistics - this time about welfare.

Hardly a surprise, given that next week MPs vote on whether to impose a real-terms benefits cut.

This is significant because it will break the link between benefit rises and inflation.

So the Department for Work and Pensions has released figures (which aren't new) showing that "many working-age benefits" including Jobseekers' Allowance and Income Support, have risen by 20% since 2007.

But average private sector pay, according to the DWP, has only increased by 12% over the same period.

Reason enough, says the Government, to impose a three-year cap of 1% on most working-age benefits and tax credits to make it fairer.

No it's not, shout Labour, who are calling next week's vote the 'Strivers Tax Bill' as it will hit working families.

They also point out that over the last decade, Jobseekers' Allowance has not increased as much as wages.

Of course both sides can be right.

The Tories are looking at a five year period, Labour at a ten.

But it does highlight how political parties like to use statistics to make their point.

The Government is using the figures to blame Labour for allowing the welfare bill to get out of hand and trapping families in a culture of dependency.

Labour accuses the Government of hurting the poorest and defending the rich.

Expect more fireworks next Tuesday when MPs debate this in the Commons.

And even more when the Universal Credit comes in later this year, to replace working-age benefits and tax credits.