UK leader steps down, allegedly over planned disability benefits cuts

Controversy Follows Benefits Slashing
Controversy Follows Benefits Cuts

UK Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith resigned March 18, criticizing a new plan that would slash disability benefits for more than half a million people.

On March 7, the UK House of Lords voted to cut Employment and Support Allowance benefits, the country’s main disability benefits program, from £103 to £73 per week, for beneficiaries temporarily removed from the workforce due to their disabilities. The £73 per week rate is the same as that for people receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance, which is similar to unemployment benefits.

In his resignation letter, Duncan Smith proclaimed that he is “incredibly proud of the welfare reforms” instituted during Prime Minister David Cameron’s now six-year tenure. Such reforms include the controversial replacement of the Disability Living Allowances program with a new system of Personal Independent Payments, and the implementation of work assessments of ESA beneficiaries and the “bedroom tax” on homes with spare bedrooms that are often necessary for people with mobility disabilities.

However, Duncan Smith argues the latest changes go too far, though it is less clear if his opposition stems from empathy with long-running arguments from disability advocates, or frustration that the cuts weren’t coupled with further pension reforms. The ESSA cuts are part of a larger measure known as the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.

“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,” Duncan Smith wrote in the letter. “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.”

Many commentators speculated that the resignation of Ducan Smith, the Conservative Party leader from 2001 to 2003, is largely the product of an internal feud with Chancellor George Osburne and his disagreement with the Tory leadership’s preference for remaining in the European Union in the country’s scheduled June referendum. The move also gained little support from Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

“He’s suddenly found a conscience now. I wonder where the conscience has been hiding for the last six years?,” Corbyn told the London Mirror.

Prime Minister Cameron has appointed Stephen Crabb as Duncan Smith’s replacement.