Anger as 'nasty' £4bn cuts target disabled and sick
Published 14/09/2010 | 05:00
British Chancellor George Osborne last night defended his plans for further reductions in welfare spending.
Mr Osborne insisted they will be delivered by reforms of the benefit system to ensure that those who can work, do work.
However, the cuts have produced a storm of protest, with Labour attacking him for what they described as a "nasty" attack on the most sick and disabled people in society, following an interview last week in which he said he would cut £4bn (€4.8bn) from welfare in next month's spending review, on top of £11bn (€13.2) savings announced in the Budget.
Mr Osborne's was yesterday forced to go to the House of Commons to explain his plans by disgruntled Liberal Democrat backbenchers.
Labour's shadow work and pensions secretary Yvette Cooper said: "He is targeting those who are most sick and most disabled in society. Isn't the truth that he has decided to hit those he knows will find it harder to fight back? This isn't progressive, it's a nasty attack and he should withdraw it now."
She demanded to know whether Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith agreed to the £4bn savings.
A leaked letter from Mr Osborne yesterday suggested he and Mr Duncan Smith agreed to slash £2.5bn (€3bn) from Employment and Support Allowance alone, but Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander said that things had "moved on" since the letter was written.
Mr said that the welfare bill had risen 45pc in the last decade and ate up one-third of government spending.
He added it was "impossible" to review spending without looking at welfare.
He dismissed allegations of a "turf war" with Mr Duncan Smith, hailing his Cabinet colleague's plans for welfare as "inspirational" and insisting that relations between their departments were "strong".
But Ms Cooper said that saving £4bn from the welfare bill by getting people into work would require the Government to create 800,000 jobs, at a time when measures in the Budget were predicted to take 100,000 jobs a year out of the economy.
Liberal Democrat backbencher Bob Russell, who tabled the question which forced yesterday's debate, said Mr Osborne had been "dragged" to the chamber because he made an announcement to the BBC rather than to Parliament.
He accused the Chancellor of pursuing an "immature" turf war with Mr Duncan Smith and said it was "unethical" to blame the country's financial problems on welfare cheats.