Millions of the poorest people in Britain are facing a benefit increase of just 50p a week, the smallest rise in their payments for at least 30 years.
Pressure groups attacked the Government yesterday, saying that the rises, which will come into force in April, were objectionable and that a swath of society was being ignored.
Millions of claimants of Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA), Housing Benefit and Income Support will see payments go up by just 1 per cent next year, thanks to the operation of a government formula. The increase is the lowest since at least 1974, and less than a third of the 3.1 per cent inflation rate.
Campaigners said that those losing out - the "forgotten poor" - were being sidelined because of the Government's focus on pensioners and families with children.
The decision has echoes of the row five years ago when a similar formula delivered a rise of just 75p a week in the state pensions, forcing the Government into a U-turn. The increase is based on the measure of inflation that excludes rent, mortgage interest payments and council tax for September - the Rossi index.
American casino operators claim the Government has offered to slash taxes on gaming to encourage them to invest in Britain, it was reported last night.
Frank Fahrenkopf, head of the American Gaming Association, said that officials had told him the tax would be cut from 40 per cent to between 15 and 20 per cent.
Speculation that a reduction in tax was on the cards was fuelled by a briefing note sent by Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell to Labour MPs, advising them that the expansion of casinos envisaged in the Bill would be "revenue neutral".
Meanwhile, the government is to head off a damaging row over plans to allow Las Vegas-style casinos in Britain by announcing strict planning rules that will give people living in the district the final say on whether they should be built.
Last night a spokesman for the Department of Culture said reports of plans to build 250 casinos were exaggerated and denied it had made any tax break offer. Any decision on tax was a matter for the Treasury, said a spokesman.
"Our estimates are between 20 and 40 more casinos. One of the main checks is the powers the Bill gives people to have a voice and for local authorities to say no to new casinos," he said.
The Government is expected to publish the planning rules when the Bill returns to the Commons in the next few weeks. Gordon Brown, whose Treasury would receive a windfall from tax from the casinos, is believed to be concerned that people with little cash to spare could find themselves in debt after being hooked on fruit machines or the gaming tables.
Others believe gambling addiction could increase. Some Labour MPs fear revenue from poor punters in the UK could swell the coffers of big American gambling firms but fail to regenerate run-down areas.
Philip Thornton,Marie Woolf