Iain Duncan Smith has told a group of MPs that he “simply doesn’t recognise” the £4 billion figure that George Osborne claims will be cut from the welfare budget. The latest remarks will heighten tensions between two of David Cameron’s leading figures.
Last Thursday, George Osborne told Nick Robinson of the BBC that the Government was planning to reduce the annual welfare budget by a further £4 billion above and beyond the £11bn announced in the June Budget. At the Work and Pensions Select Committee this afternoon, IDS answered a question from Anne Begg MP:
BEGG: “Perhaps, in terms of what we read in the newspapers you might be able to clarify the figures, because we’re finding that quite confusing. The figure of £11bn savings from your department has been bandied about, as being part of what was in the Budget, and then over the weekend there’s been £4bn and then £2.5bn, are these additional, what exactly is the figure with regards to your own department?”
DUNCAN SMITH: “£4 billion? I simply don’t recognise that figure at all … I only picked up the story in the Sunday papers at the last moment.”
On Monday, Liberal Democrat MP, Bob Russell, told George Osborne:
“I find it somewhat immature this turf war between your office and the secretary of state for work and pensions”.
Last night, IDS denied the rift with Osborne and told Jeff Randal that he and the Chancellor were “very close”. His remarks today undermine that apparent rapprochement.
Tension between the two senior Cabinet members have been bubbling under the surface all summer. In late August, the Mail on Sunday reported a “blazing row” between the pair while earlier that month the Daily Mail reported a “bureaucratic struggle” between Treasury and DWP.
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Yvette Cooper today said:
“This shows the chaos at the heart of Government. By conducting these rows in public they are scaring a lot of vulnerable people who now have no idea how much more they will lose.”
Adding to the confusion, Downing Street denies that Mr Osborne had ever said £4 billion and claims instead that he said “several billion”.
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