Iain Duncan Smith has sparked a dramatic escalation of tensions in the Conservative Party with an astonishing attack on the Government’s record, warning that David Cameron and George Osborne risk “dividing society” with their cuts to welfare.
The former Work and Pensions Secretary, who resigned on Friday citing alarm at new £4.4bn cuts to disability benefits, told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show that the Government had to stop “bearing down” on working age benefit claimants to cut the deficit, branding the Chancellor's budget, which included tax breaks for higher earners, “deeply unfair”.
In his first interview since resigning, the former Conservative leader denied that his departure was the beginning of a coup against Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne, or that it was linked to the Cabinet split over the EU referendum.
But in condemning key pillars of the Government’s reform agenda, he delivered a serious blow to the authority of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor.
He described the welfare cap as “arbitrary” and accused Mr Osborne of pursuing “a desperate search for savings”, which he said had come at the expense of reforms that would help benefits claimants back into to work, and risked destroying the Conservative’s claim to be a “one nation party”.
“Yes we need to get the deficit down but we need to make sure we widen the scope of where we look to get that deficit down and not just narrow it down on working age benefits,” he said. “Otherwise it just looks like we see this as a pot of money, [and] that it doesn’t matter because they don’t vote for us.”
He said the Government was “in danger of drifting in a direction that divides society rather than unites it.”
“That I think is unfair. I’m not in the business of morality and everything else, I leave that to churchmen. I simply say that as far as I am concerned the risk is there.”
Mr Duncan Smith said resigning had been a “painful” decision, but had not been “about attacking the PM or Europe”.
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
He defended his own record as Work and Pensions Secretary, during a tenure in which he endorsed previous cuts to the welfare budget, as well as controversial policies such as the bedroom tax and the troubled transition to Universal Credit. He claimed he had worked hard “behind the scenes” to “even out and smooth out those policies.”
It has been reported that the Prime Minister branded his former Cabinet colleague “dishonourable” on hearing of his decision to resign, while extracts from a new book by former Lib Dem Coalition minister David Laws claim that Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne attempted to sack Mr Duncan Smith four years ago.
Responding to his latest salvo against the Government, Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd said Mr Duncan Smith was “completely wrong” to say the Government was not pursuing one nation conservatism and said she resented his “high moral tone”.
“We are a team as a government, as a cabinet and he has broken ranks with that team and it’s upsetting,” she told Sky News’ Murnaghan programme.
But Mr Duncan Smith’s former colleague, pensions minister Baroness Ros Altmann told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics she believed his resignation had been “all about Europe”.
“It’s been the impression I’ve had for some time that Europe was the thing that really mattered and the rest of it not so much,” she said. “I do think this definitely has to be about Europe. The timing of it and the way it’s happened when the policy that he had supported, we’d already agreed to revisit.”
She said Mr Duncan Smith had “silenced” her for months, preventing her from speaking to the media or tweeting about the Government’s pensions and welfare reforms.
“Iain has pushed through these measures, he has supported these measures…we’ve had discussions about it and he’s explained why the current system needed to change, it wasn’t working well. Therefore I am really surprised he has resigned in this way.
“I really do think this is all about Europe…the department has supported the cuts…As far as my experience is concerned it seems to be this is about Europe…it’s about the difficult relationship between certain personalities at the top of government,” she said.