Iain Duncan Smith stunned Westminster on Friday night by quitting the Cabinet over George Osborne’s plans to slash support for disabled people.
He resigned as Work and Pensions Secretary saying the plan to cut £4bn from the budget for Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) was “indefensible” in light of a Budget which “benefits higher earning taxpayers”. Owen Smith, the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said the “humiliated” Government had been left in disarray.
Duncan Smith published a damning resignation letter which undermined George Osborne just two days after the Chancellor vowed in the Budget to stick to his plan for a £10.4bn surplus in public spending by 2020.
Tonight Duncan Smith attacked Osborne’s spending plans as seeming “distinctly political” rather than in the “national economic interest”, highlighted the decision to reduce disability support while funding a cut in capital gains tax and complained about interference in DWP by the Treasury.
“I have for some time and rather reluctantly come to believe that the latest changes to benefits to the disabled, and the context in which they’ve been made are, a compromise too far. While they are defensible in narrow terms, given the continuing deficit, they are not defensible in the way they were placed within a budget that benefits higher earning taxpayers. They should have instead been part of a wider process to engage others in finding the best way to better focus resources on those most in need,” he wrote.
“I am unable to watch passively whilst certain policies are enacted in order to meet the fiscal self imposed restraints that I believe are more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest. Too often my team and I have been pressured in the immediate run up to a budget or fiscal event to deliver yet more reductions to the working age benefit bill.”
Duncan Smith, who spent two years as Tory leader before falling victim to a coup in 2003, had served as Work and Pensions Secretary since 2010.
He became something close to a hate-figure on the left because of a series of controversial welfare changes including the bedroom tax, which is widely believed to have proved a false economy, and the planned roll-out of Universal Credit, which has prompted derision because of a series of delays.
On Friday night Owen Smith said Duncan Smith’s departure was “a humiliating blow for a Government that is in disarray over their unfair Budget”.
“On Iain Duncan Smith’s watch, welfare reform has too often been used as an excuse for targeting cuts on those least able to withstand them. That was the case again when the Government attempted to slash support for disabled people to fund tax breaks for the rich.
“He now leaves behind him a Universal Credit system that will make millions of working families worse off, a state pension system that’s let down women born in the 1950s, an illegal Bedroom Tax and pernicious cuts to support for disabled people.
“The Tories must now immediately shelve these cuts to disability benefits and re-think their unfair Budget that’s showed, beyond doubt, the country’s not all in it together on the Tory watch.”
Duncan Smith’s resignation dents Osborne’s hopes of succeeding David Cameron as Prime Minister.
However critics suspect Duncan Smith – a staunch eurosceptic who has joined the Out campaign – has also been motivated by his divisions with Cameron and Osborne over the EU.