DWP chaos: Duncan-Smith out, Altmann attacks, Crabb in

DWP chaos: Duncan-Smith out, Altmann attacks, Crabb in

Attacks, counter-attacks, a ministerial resignation and replacement, have thrown the Department for Work & Pensions into chaos over the weekend.

By Sunday night (20 March), Britain had a new secretary of state for work and pensions, and open warfare between the pension minister and her former boss, who himself was embroiled in a public quarrel with the government.

The first shoe fell late on Friday (18 March), with Iain Duncan-Smith announcing he had resigned as work and pensions secretary.

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Citing a dispute with chancellor George Osborne’s Treasury over the decision to strip £1.3bn from disability payments, announced in Wednesday’s (16 March) Budget, Mr Duncan-Smith wrote the cut was a “compromise too far”.

Confirmation followed on Saturday (19 March) that relative unknown Stephen Crabb, MP for Welsh constituency Preseli Pembrokeshire, would replace Mr Duncan-Smith at the DWP.

But as if a high-profile cabinet exit and hastily organised replacement was not enough for the DWP to deal with over the weekend, pensions minister Ros Altmann waded into the row on Saturday (19 March) night with a personal statement of her own.

In it, Baroness Altmann claimed her former boss Mr Duncan-Smith “championed the very package of reforms to disability benefits he now says is the reason he has resigned”.

Number 10 and HM Treasury had already told Mr Duncan-Smith they would “pause and rethink” the cuts to Personal Independence Payments (PIP), she wrote.

The Guardian and the BBC reported on Friday – before Mr Duncan-Smith announced his exit - that the government had said the cuts would be reconsidered.

His resignation “really seems to be about the European referendum campaign rather that about DWP policy,” Baroness Altmann’s letter said, referring to Mr Duncan-Smith’s decision to campaign for Britain to leave the European Union, contrary to the government’s position on the issue.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme on Sunday, Mr Duncan-Smith dismissed Baroness Altmann’s claims, saying his exit was about “deeply unfair” public sector cuts by prime minister David Cameron and Mr Osborne.

In his resignation letter, Mr Duncan-Smith said he had “rather reluctantly” come to view the cuts to PIPs as “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,” the letter read.

Cuts to PIPs were likely to affect some 640,000 people. The money helps with the costs caused by long-term ill-health or disability.

Recipients get between £21.80 and £139.75 a week, depending on how severely their condition affects their day-to-day life.

Referring to the government’s austerity strategy of large reductions in public sector spending to eliminate the deficit, Mr Duncan-Smith wrote the disability payment cuts were “part of fiscal self imposed restraints... more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest”.