Iain Duncan Smith has resigned from his role as Work and Pensions Secretary complaining of Treasury pressure to make cuts to benefits.
In a statement to the media Mr Duncan Smith, known as IDS, said he was "incredibly proud" of his work at the department but said he is "unable to watch passively whilst certain policies are enacted in order to meet the fiscal self imposed restraints that I believe are...distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest".
He said he had "rather reluctantly" come to believe "the latest changes to benefits to the disabled and the context in which they've been made are compromised too far".
"While they are defensible in narrow terms, given the continuing deficit, they are not defensible in the way they were placed within a Budget that benefits higher earning taxpayers. They should have instead been part of a wider process to engage others in finding the best way to better focus resources on those most in need", he continued.
He questioned whether the Government has made sure "we are all in this together".
He said: "You should be very proud of what this government has done on deficit reduction, corporate competitiveness, education reforms and devolution of power. I hope as the government goes forward you can look again, however, at the balance of the cuts you have insisted upon and wonder if enough has been done to ensure 'we are all in this together'."
"I am unable to watch passively whilst certain policies are enacted in order to meet the fiscal self imposed restraints that I believe are more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest. Too often my team and I have been pressured in the immediate run up to a budget or fiscal event to deliver yet more reductions to the working age benefit bill.
7 ways the Tories have ‘helped’ disabled people
7 ways the Tories have ‘helped’ disabled people
1/7 Closing Remploy factories
The Work and Pensions Secretary called time on Britain’s system of Remploy factories, which provided subsidised and sheltered employment to disabled people. People employed at the factories protested against their closure and said they provided gainful work. “Is it a kindness to stick people in some factory where they are not doing any work at all? Just making cups of coffee?” Mr Duncan Smith said at the time, defending the decision. “I promise you this is better.” The Remploy organisation was privatised and sold to American workfare provider Maximus, with the majority of the organisation’s factories closed. The future of the remaining sites is unclear
2/7 Scrapping the Independent Living Fund
The £320m Independent Living Fund was established in 1988 to give financial support to people with disabilities. It was scrapped on July 1 2015, with 18,000 often severely disabled people losing out by an average of £300 a week. The money was generally used to help pay for carers so people could live in communities rather than institutions. Councils will get a boost in funding to compensate but it will not cover the whole cost of the fund. This new cash also doesn’t have to be spent on the disabled
3/7 Cut payments for the disabled Access To Work scheme
Iain Duncan Smith is bringing forward a policy that will reduce payments to some disabled people from a scheme designed to help them into work. The £108m scheme, which helps 35,540 people, will be capped on a per-used basis, potentially hitting those with the more serious disabilities who currently receive the most help. The single biggest users of the fund are people who have difficulty seeing and hearing. The cut will come in from October 2015. The charity Disability UK says the scheme actually makes the Government money because the people who gain access to work tend pay tax that more than covers its cost. The DWP does not describe the reduction as a “cut” and says it will be able to spread the money more thinly and cover more people
4/7 Cut Employment and Support Allowance
The latest Budget included a £30 a week cut in disability benefits for some new claimants of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). The Government says it is equalising the rate of disability benefits with Jobseekers Allowance because giving disabled people more help is a “perverse incentive”. The people affected by this cut are those assessed as having a limited capability for work but as being capable of some “work-related activity”. A group of prominent Catholics wrote to Mr Duncan Smith to say there was “no justification” for this cut. Mental health charity Mind, said the cut was “insulting and misguided”
5/7 Risk homelessness with a sharp increase disability benefit sanctions
Official figures in the first quarter of 2014 found a huge increase in sanctions against people reliant on ESA sickness benefit. The 15,955 sanctions were handed out in that period compared to 3,574 in the same period the year before, 2013 – a 4.5 times increase. The homelessness charity Crisis warned at the time that the sharp rise in temporary benefit cuts was “cruel and can leave people utterly destitute – without money even for food and at severe risk of homelessness”. “It is difficult to see how they are meant to help people prepare for work,” Matt Downie, director of policy at the charity added
6/7 Sending sick people to work because of broken fitness to work tests
In 2012 a government advisor appointed to review the Government’s Work Capability Assessment said the tests causing suffering by sending sick people back to work inappropriately. “There are certainly areas where it's still not working and I am sorry there are people going through a system which I think still needs improvement,” Professor Malcolm Harrington concluded. The tests are said to have improved since then, but as recently as this summer they are still coming in for criticism. In June the British Psychological Society said there was “now significant body of evidence that the WCA is failing to assess people’s fitness for work accurately and appropriately”. It called for a full overhaul of the way the tests are carried out. The WCA appeals system has also been fraught with controversy with a very high rate of overturns and delays lasting months and blamed for hardship
7/7 The bedroom tax
The Government’s benefit cut for people who it says are “under-occupying” their homes disproportionately affects disabled people. Statistics released last year show that around two-thirds of those affected by the under-occupancy penalty, widely known as the ‘bedroom tax’, are disabled. There have been a number of high profile cases of disabled people being moved out of specially adapted homes by the policy. In one case publicised by the Sunday People last week, a 48 year old man with cerebral palsy was forced to bathe in a paddling pool after the tax moved him out of his home with a walk-in shower. The Government says it has provided councils with a discretionary fund to help reduce the policy’s impact on disabled people, but cases continue to arise
"There has been too much emphasis on money saving exercises and not enough awareness from the Treasury, in particular, that the government's vision of a new welfare-to-work system could not be repeatedly salami-sliced."
The Government is reportedly on the verge of shelving plans to cut Personal Independence Payments (PIP) by £30 a week after the Conservative party threatened to rebel.
Backbenchers have threatened to vote down the measure that could leave almost 400,000 disabled people an average of £3,500 worse off.
The cut will affect disabled people who are deemed well enough to work as many will no longer be able to afford the specially adapted equipment - such as cars - which enable them to get dressed, go to the bathroom or leave the house.
At the same, in his annual budget on Wednesday, Chancellor George Osborne cut corporation and capital gains taxes and lifted the earnings threshold at which the higher rate of income tax is payable while warning the economy would grow more slowly than previously forecast.
In a blog post, The Spectator editor Fraser Nelson said the resignation was a culmination of several years "biting his tongue" at every budget.
He said: "He fought (and won) battles to try to stop Osborne tearing tax credits away from the low paid. But the fighting wore him down over the years. It was the same story: trying to persuade a Treasury machine that there were human lives behind these benefits; that the objective was to save money. And that a moral thread needs to run through welfare reform".
A Labour source reportedly told the Telegraph that the Conservatives had "gone from chaos to meltdown".
BREAKING Labour Party source on IDS resignation: "The Tory party has gone from chaos to meltdown."— Christopher Hope (@christopherhope) 18 March 2016
Some have viewed his resignation as an act of "war" against Mr Osborne - likening it to the resignation of former Conservative Home Secretary Geoffrey Howe which led to the downfall of Margaret Thatcher in 1990.
Former Labour shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna speculated that Mr Duncan Smith's resignation was less to with his discomfort about benefits cuts and more of a target attack on the leadership for backing Britain remaining the EU.
Journalists have also suggested IDS had been mulling over resigning "for weeks" after feeling "humilated" over Brexit.
IDS is a firm supporter of the Brexit campaign along with several other Cabinet members including Justice Secretary Michael Gove and Leader of the House of Commons Chris Grayling.
Commentators have speculated that this is a particularly serious sign of the rupture within the Conservative party over Europe that has reached boiling point ahead of the EU referendum in June.
BBC Radio 4 Today presenter Nick Robinson has described the resignation as "firing an Exocet missile" at George Osborne.
The resignation is an embarassment for Mr Osborne who is one of the top contenders to replace David Cameron - who has said he does not plan to serve a third term as prime minister.
It could play into the hands of his rival, Mayor of London, Boris Johnson whose support for the Brexit campaign as been widely seen as an attempt to win over the Eurosceptic grassroots of the party.
Additional reporting by PA