It's a stunt! Iain Duncan Smith dismisses demands to live on £53 a week

 

Deputy Political Editor

Iain Duncan Smith dismissed demands for him to try to make ends meet on £53 a week as a "complete stunt" and insisted he had experienced life "on the breadline" as ministers confronted their critics over wider-ranging cuts to benefits.

The Work and Pensions Secretary was backed by the Chancellor George Osborne in arguing that welfare reforms were essential to helping recipients back into work and tackling Britain's previously burgeoning benefits bill. They believe the majority of voters - particularly lower-paid workers - back the Coalition's moves to trim welfare spending.

By last night almost 300,000 people had signed an online petition challenging Mr Duncan Smith to survive on £53 a week, or £7.57 a day, after he insisted he could "if I had to".

It was set up when David Bennett, a market trader, told BBC Radio 4 that the sum was all he had to live on after his housing benefit was cut - and Mr Duncan Smith responded by claiming he could manage on that amount.

But the Work and Pensions Secretary told his local newspaper: "This is a complete stunt which distracts attention from the welfare reforms which are much more important and which I have been working hard to get done. I have been unemployed twice in my life so I have already done this. I know what it is like to live on the breadline."

Both Downing Street, on behalf of David Cameron, and Mr Osborne sidestepped questions on their ability to cope on such an income.

But Greg Clark, the Treasury minister, admitted that any politician would find it difficult to live on £53 a week.

"I think it's an incredible struggle to do that and I think any MP, anyone earning the comfortable wage that an MP has would certainly struggle.

"I think the context is this - we're all having to tighten our belts…right across the board there are difficult choices to be made, it is an incredibly difficult situation," he told BBC Radio 5Live.

The row began as cuts to benefits came into force this week. They include reductions of up to 25 per cent in housing benefit payments if recipients are deemed to have spare rooms - the so-called "bedroom tax" - and below-inflation increases in benefit rates.

Disability living allowance is being replaced by the personal independence payment, while trials are due to begin in four London boroughs of a £500-a-week cap on household benefits. The first pilot of the new Universal Credit system also begins this month.

In a speech in Kent yesterday, Mr Osborne said the welfare system was "fundamentally broken" and hit out at critics of the Government's plans, who include church leaders and charities, accusing them of talking "ill-informed rubbish".

Arguing that ministers were simply trying to restore "some common sense and control on costs" on spending, he said that by the year 2010 an "unaffordable" one pound in seven paid in tax was being spent on working age benefits.

The Chancellor said the changes were "all about making sure that we use every penny we can to back hard working people who want to get on in life".

He also mounted a fierce defence of his decision to lower the top rate of tax from 50p to 45p, asserting that it was "essential" to help get the economy growing. The reduction comes into effect on Saturday.

Acknowledging the move was "controversial", he said: "In a modern global economy, where people can move anywhere in the world, we cannot have a top rate of tax that discourages people from living here, setting up businesses here, investing here, creating jobs here."

The Chancellor cited France, where the Government is planning to "whack up their top rate of tax" and job creation rates were falling.

"The opposite is happening here because we are welcoming entrepreneurs and wealth creators - and the jobs they bring with them," he said.

He said the 50p rate - brought by Labour weeks before the election in 2010 was a "con" as amounts of tax collected fell.

"We got the worst of both worlds: a tax rate that discouraged enterprise and didn't raise more money from the rich. You can't pay down the deficit with that."

Mr Duncan Smith came under fresh pressure last night over his scheme to replace as string of benefits and tax credits with Universal Credit, which is due to be rolled out from October.

MPs on the Commons Communities and Local Government select committee raised fears that the overhaul will leave the benefits system more vulnerable to fraud.

It highlighted concerns that the computer system underpinning Universal Credit will have trouble distinguishing between genuine and bogus claims.

It said in a report published today that it is "worrying that the system still seems to be at the development stage".

FIRST TASTE OF LIFE OF THE DOLE

Iain Duncan Smith’s first taste of life on the dole came at the age of 27 after he left the Army, where he had been a Captain in the Scots Guards.

He claimed unemployment benefit for several months before joining GEC-Marconi in 1981. He joined the Conservative Party the same year and stood in the general election six years later.

After seven years with GEC, Mr Duncan Smith moved to a property company as its marketing director, but was made redundant after just six months when the housing market crashed.

By now he was married to his wife Betsy, who is a baron’s daughter, with a child and a second on the way.

He once recalled: “It was a shock – absolutely awful. I felt pathetic. I remember telling my wife. We looked at each other and she said: ‘God, what are we going to do for money?’.”

During his second spell out of work, he applied unsuccessfully for several jobs before joining the military publishers Jane’s Information Group as its sales and marketing director in 1989. He eventually was promoted to the company’s operations board.

Three years later he succeeded fellow right winger Norman Tebbit as the MP for Chingford – and a political career was underway that led him to his party’s leadership and David Cameron’s Cabinet.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
life
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Life and Style
tech
News
The Commonwealth flag flies outside Westminster Abbey in central London
news
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
theatre
Extras
indybest
News
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
Arts and Entertainment
tvWebsite will allow you to watch all 522 shows on-demand
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Community / Stakeholder Manager - Solar PV

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Senior Marketing Executive (B2B/B2C) - London

£32000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

C# .Net Developer

£23000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: C# .Net Develop re...

Electronics Design Engineer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: My client are l...

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor