Smith resigns as work and pensions secretary amid disability benefit cuts

Ian Duncan Smith has resigned as Work and Pensions Secretary after condemning cuts disability benefits announced in the 2016 Budget.

Smith claimed that the government had focused benefit cuts on groups who did not vote conservative and voiced concerns the it could risk dividing society.

The proposed cuts include the imposition of Personal Independence Payments (PIP) which will gradually replace the Disability Living Allowance. Recipients of the funding will be regularly reassessed, with money awarded on a points basis. The changes will mean less weight will be given to the use of aids and appliances in two of the 10 daily living activities (dressing and managing toilet needs).

Opponents of the plans have said the PIP could affect up to 64,000 people each week, and could result in recipients losing up to £100k per week. The government has argued that ‘a significant number of people are likely to be getting the benefit despite having minimal to no ongoing daily living extra costs’.

However, in his resignation letter Smith said: “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.”

In a letter to Smith, Prime Minister Cameron said: “I regret that you have chosen to step down from the government at this moment. Together we designed the PIP to support the most vulnerable and to give disabled people more independence.

“We all agreed that the increased resources being spent on disabled people should be properly managed and focused on those who need it most.

“That is why we collectively agreed – you, No 10 and the Treasury – proposals which you and your Department then announced a week ago. Today we agreed not to proceed with the policies in their current form and instead to work together to get these policies right over the coming months.

“In the light of this, I am puzzled and disappointed that you have chosen to resign.”

Smith is set to be replaced by former Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb, who is expected to tell the Commons that the changes to PIP have been abandoned.