Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith provokes ministers' revolt as he tells wealthy pensioners: 'hand back your benefits'

IDS says it is an 'anomaly' that all pensioners receive universal benefits, no matter how well-off they are

Iain Duncan Smith suffered a backlash from Cabinet colleagues today when he suggested that wealthy pensioners should voluntarily repay their universal benefit payments to the state.

The Work and Pensions Secretary’s comments caused confusion within own department, which stressed he was not making a policy announcement, and surprise among other senior ministers.

His remarks were also seen as a swipe at David Cameron’s commitment not to trim back pensioners’ benefits for the lifetime of this Parliament, which runs until 2015. They include the winter fuel allowance, free bus travel and free television licences for the over-75s.

Ministers are due on Tuesday to submit their final bids to the Treasury ahead of the next spending review in June and Mr Duncan Smith is under pressure to identify more savings from his budget.

He said today there were “no plans” to alter the universal benefits paid to pensioners, but urged them to return the cash if they did not need it.

He told the Sunday Telegraph: “It is up to them, if they don’t want it, to hand it back. I would encourage everybody who reads the Telegraph and doesn’t need it to hand it back.”

Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, said it was right that “very wealthy, maybe multimillionaire, pensioners” should make sacrifices, but he scornfully rejected the suggestion of creating a system of repayments to the Treasury.

“I think the idea of saying that in the meantime you give people benefits and you say ‘oh by the way can you please give them back’, I don’t think that makes sense,” the Liberal Democrat leader told the BBC.

The senior Conservative Kenneth Clarke, the minister without portfolio, who is 72, delivered a similarly scathing verdict.

“You can’t hand it back to the Government. I don’t think it is a system for doing that,” he told Sky News. “Every pensioner and retired person like myself has to make up their own mind about whether they really need it and whether they are going to give it to some worthwhile cause.”

The Department for Work and Pensions insisted Mr Duncan Smith was not announcing fresh policy, but simply reminded pensioners of the possibility of repaying cash.

A spokeswoman said he was simply referring to the winter fuel payment and not to other universal benefits received by older people.

The row came on the eve of tomorrow’s launch of Mr Duncan Smith’s flagship welfare reform, the Universal Credit, which brings six different benefits and tax credits together into one payment designed to ensure work always pays.

It will begin on trial “pathfinder” basis in Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, before being rolled out to other locations in the North-West of England and then the rest of the country by 2017. The Government says it will be introduced in a “slow and safe” manner to ensure the details of a complex reform are got right.

Mr Duncan Smith said: “Universal Credit is nothing less than the start of a fundamental cultural shift of the welfare system. This will revolutionise the way people experience the welfare state. It will make it easier for people claim what they are entitled to, but more importantly, it will make it easier for people to move off benefits and into work.”

Labour said it backed the proposal, but claimed that its launch was in crisis.

Liam Byrne, the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “The pathfinder is a pathetic joke, limited to a tiny number of people the scheme can handle. The truth is the scheme is late, over budget, the IT system appears to be falling apart and even DWP Ministers admit they haven’t got a clue what is going on.

Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
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
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
News
news
News
i100
Travel
Fair trade: the idea of honesty boxes relies on people paying their way
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
News
people
Sport
Antoine Griezmann has started two of France’s four games so far
sport
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
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

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
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