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
Life & Style
Sampling wine in Turin
food + drink...and abstaining may be worse than drinking too much, says scientist
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Sport
Jose Mourinho restrains his assistant manager Rui Faria, Fabio Borini celebrates his winning penalty and Connor Wickham equalises for Sunderland
sportChelsea 1 Sunderland 2: Deafeat is extra bitter as former Chelsea player Fabio Borini scores late penalty to seal victory
Arts & Entertainment
Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin has been working on the novels since the mid-Nineties
books
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Easter a dangerous time for dogs
these are the new ones. Old ones are below them... news
News
Brand said he
people
Sport
Roger Federer celebrates his victory over Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo Masters
sport
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Arts & Entertainment
The monster rears its head as it roars into the sky
film
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
News
peopleOrlando Bloom the pin-up hero is making a fresh start
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit