Prove it! Campaigners deliver petition calling for Iain Duncan Smith to live on £53 a week to his Whitehall office

Petition with almost half a million signatures demands the Work and Pensions Secretary backs up his claim

The Work and Pensions Secretary has today accused some welfare applicants of getting their claim in early to avoid stringent new conditions, as a petition with more than 460,000 names calling on him to back up his claim that he could live on £53 a week was handed in to his office.

Iain Duncan Smith, who lives in a 16th-century Tudor mansion, made the claim last week as he announced reforms to the benefits system. The petition, the fastest-growing in the history of the Change.org website, was dismissed as a “complete stunt” by Mr Duncan Smith, who said he had experienced life “on the breadline”.

The petition was set up when David Bennett, a market trader, said the sum was all he had to live on after his housing benefit was cut. Mr Duncan Smith responded by claiming he could manage on that amount.

It asks demands that Mr Duncan Smith prove his claim by doing so for a year.

But the Work and Pensions Secretary told his local newspaper last week: “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.”

Shop Assistant Dominic Aversano handed over the petition, who started the petition. The 28-year-old from Twickenham, south west London, said: "I don't think Mr Duncan Smith has a choice about whether to listen to the petition because so many people have signed it.

"I think it has changed the debate around welfare cuts. I was very surprised because I didn't think we would have such a large response. I am delighted."

Security staff, seeing the group approaching, locked the doors to the building and - initially at least - refused to accept the petition.

Mr Aversano said: “That is in keeping with pretty much everything that Iain Duncan Smith has done, he has been ignoring all the people who signed the petition. And so, to ignore us when we come to the door is not really a surprise to me, it proves the point even more."

John Coventry of campaigning website Change.org, which hosted ithe petition, said: “Funnily enough, the last time we were locked out like of a building was the Chinese embassy when we were handing in hundreds of thousands of signatures to free human rights activist Liu Xiaobo about three or four months ago.”

It took various attempts and numerous calls and emails to Department staff to eventually persuade them to allow the petition through the doors.

Mr Coventry  said it was the largest his organisation had ever hosted.

He said: "This has really taken the debate out of politicians' hands and put it back in the hands of the people. Social media has the power to do that now."

Mr Duncan Smith went on the offensive today, claiming people have been rushing to get disability benefits before the coalition toughens up the system.

He said a surge in applications before the personal independence payment (PIP) started coming into force today demonstrated why reform was needed.

He told the Daily Mail: “Seventy per cent of people on it have lifetime awards which means no one sees you ever again. It doesn't matter if you get better or your condition worsens - it's quite ridiculous.

“We've seen a rise in the run-up to PIP. And you know why? They know PIP has a health check. They want to get in early, get ahead of it. It's a case of 'get your claim in early'.”

He added that rigorous new health checks for claimants were “common sense”.

Both Downing Street, on behalf of David Cameron, and George Osborne have 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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

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

Recruitment Genius: Multi-skilled Maintenance Engineer - Electrical Bias

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in Grantham, Lincolnshire...

Recruitment Genius: Data Centre & Systems Support Engineers

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This accelerated growth ISP company is current...

Ashdown Group: Senior Systems Administrator - London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Systems Administra...

Recruitment Genius: .NET Web Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity for a t...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003