Iain Duncan Smith, the prominent Work and Pensions Secretary who has presided over a series of welfare reforms, resigned in a shock move last night, prompting a hostile response from a ‘puzzled and disappointed’ Cameron.
Much has been made of this move with commentators citing the growing division in the Tories over the EU referendum as a motivator for Duncan Smith to leave his cabinet position so abruptly.
In an open letter to the PM, Duncan Smith said the latest cuts to disability benefits were ‘not defensible’ in a Budget that benefited higher-earning taxpayers.
The statement came after the public backlash against the latest cuts were ‘long grassed’ and the government made a swift u-turn on the announcement which would have seen thousands of disabled people lose up to £3,500 a year.
Gavin Barwell, MP for Croydon Central, has been a strong supporter of the policy claiming his party were spending more in real terms than the opposition ever did.
— Gavin Barwell (@GavinBarwell) March 17, 2016
His vocal opponent, Labour MP for Croydon North Steve Reed, was quick to highlight Barwell’s predicament.
Far-right Iain Duncan Smith quits over savage cuts to disabled but “moderate” @GavinBarwellMP fully backs them – u-turn on the way
— Steve Reed (@SteveReedMP) March 18, 2016
Iain Duncan Smith quits cabinet over opposition to savage disability cuts – does @GavinBarwellMP still support these monstrous proposals?
— Steve Reed (@SteveReedMP) March 18, 2016
Zac Goldsmith, the Tory candidate for London Mayor, who this week stepped down as the patron of a disability charity after their chief executive said his position was ‘untenable’ in the face of the ‘brutal’ cute he had supported, has yet to make a statement.
His position as a supporter of the Leave campaign chimes with IDS’s anti-EU feeling but is unlikely to show solidarity with the former Work and Pensions Secretary to avoid further ripples in his party.
IDS resigning has everything to do with the EU and nothing to do with welfare – why wait this long after causing misery to so many to resign
— Chuka Umunna (@ChukaUmunna) March 18, 2016
Streatham MP Chuka Umunna also views the resignation as related to the ongoing turmoil over the EU referendum, aiming suspicions at IDS’s sudden show of conscience after already implementing harsh austerity cuts.
IDS gone today because we aren’t all in this together? Was he day-dreaming when the Cabinet agreed last year to cut inheritance tax?
— Tom Brake MP (@thomasbrake) March 18, 2016
Carshalton and Wallington MP Tom Brake also took issue with IDS’s reasons for resigning, pointing to other Budgets that have rewarded high-earners and protected their assets from the austerity cuts.
No Conservative MPs in south west London have yet responded to the resignation, but Dr Tania Mathias, the MP who ousted Vince Cable to take the Twickenham seat, did voice concerns over the PIP reforms as the government were creakily u-turning on them.
I am concerned by proposed changes to PIP and have raised my concerns with Treasury – policy needs to be reconsidered.
— Dr Tania Mathias MP (@tania_mathias) March 18, 2016
The text of the resignation letter is below in full:
I am incredibly proud of the welfare reforms that the Government has delivered over the last five years. Those reforms have helped to generate record rates of employment and in particular a substantial reduction in workless households.
As you know, the advancement of social justice was my driving reason for becoming part of your ministeriai team and I continue to be grateful to you for giving me the opporfunity to serve.
You have appointed good colleagues to my department who I have enjoyed working with. It has been a particular privilege to work with with excellent civil servants and the outstanding Lord Freud and other ministers including my present team, throughout all of my time at the Department of Work and Pensions.
I truly believe that we have made changes that wili greatly improve the life chances of the most disadvantaged people in this country and increase their opportunities to thrive.
A nation’s commitment to the least advantaged should include the provision of a generous safety-net but it should also include incentive structures and practical assistance programmes to help them live independently of the state. Together, we’ve made enormous strides towards building a system of social security that gets the balance right between state-help and self-help.
Throughout these years, because of the perilous public finances we inherited from the last Labour administration, difficult cuts have been necessary. I have found some of these cuts easier to justify than others but aware of the economic situation and determined to be a team player I have accepted their necessify.
You are aware that I believe the cuts would have been even fairer to younger families and people of working age if we had been willing to reduce some of the benefits given to better-off pensioners but I have attempted to work within the constraints that you and the Chancellor set.
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.
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. There has been too much emphasis on money saving exercises and not enough awareness from the Treasury, in particular, that the government’s vision of a new welfare-to-work system couid not be repeatedly salami-sliced.
It is therefore with enormous regret that I have decided to resign. You should be very proud of what this government has done on deficit reduction, corporate competitiveness, education reforms and devolution of power.
I hope as the government goes forward you can look again, however, at the balance of the cuts you have insisted upon and wonder if enough has been done to ensure “we are all in this together”.
Featured picture courtesy of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, with thanks