Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Iain Duncan Smith plays cards close to chest on welfare plan

His response to questions on the cuts was of the 'that’s for me to know and you to find out' variety

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Indy Politics

For a man who has just signed off on a deal with George Osborne to cut £12bn from the welfare budget, Iain Duncan Smith seemed ominously vague about how. Labour’s Stephen Timms wanted to know whether those on lower or average incomes would be better or worse off after the cuts. The Work and Pensions Secretary’s answer was a classic of the “That’s for me to know and you to find out” variety. “We are looking at welfare, and at how to reform it. When we are ready, I will come forward with an announcement.”

He was equally reluctant to confirm that no cuts would hit the disabled, repeatedly saying that the “most vulnerable” would be protected, omitting to say just how vulnerable you had to be to escape them. But then no one should worry because the disabled were going to be treated with the “utmost kindness”.

But then “utmost kindness” was the day’s theme, after David Cameron’s earlier startling suggestion that cutting tax credits for people in work was by some unexplained miracle going to usher in a “higher wage, lower tax” economy.

For his crowning argument, Duncan Smith declared that Labour had used tax credits to “buy votes”. Horrors! By contrast, of course, £7bn in promised tax cuts and various other incentives to vote Conservative in 2015 were a paragon of electoral probity.

This wasn’t exactly Duncan Smith’s finest hour, since when asked by Labour’s Marie Rimmer why the Government hadn’t produced figures, as instructed by the Information Commissioner,  on  how many disabled people had died after being pronounced fit for work, he denounced her for “disgraceful” scaremongering about people committing suicide. Except that Ms Rimmer hadn’t mentioned suicide.  

But sometimes the parallel universe inhabited by ministers is a bit much even for their own backbenchers. Duncan Smith lieutenant Priti Patel had been explaining that there was no link between having your benefit docked and showing up to a food bank, when Tory Andrew Percy  said “An excellent, non-political food bank in Goole tells me benefit sanctions are driving people to use them.” Ms Patel wasn’t having it. There was no “robust” evidence of a link, she said. Poor old Goole food bank: what do they know?