The build up to last week’s Budget was full of speculation concerning changes to the pension regime; reductions in tax relief for high earners and the scrapping of salary sacrifice were both mooted. On reflection, chancellor Osborne’s Budget was rather jaded, however it will now be remembered for the huge row it created over welfare cuts, instigated by Iain Duncan Smith’s sudden resignation from the post of secretary of state for work and pensions.
The untimely resignation over welfare reforms has thrown the Conservative party into disarray. Many detractors have suggested IDS advocated the contentious changes and questioned why he had apparently altered his stance. In his resignation letter, he appears to blame pressure from the chancellor to make further cuts to the welfare budget.
Mr Duncan Smith said, “Too often my team and I have been pressured in the immediate run up to a Budget or fiscal event, to deliver yet more reductions to the working age benefit bill”.
Making further cuts to the welfare system was “going too far”. Providing his rational for resigning, the MP for Chingford and Woodford Green said, “I am resigning because I want my government to think again about this [welfare cuts]” and suggested he had become detached and isolated in his view that the Conservatives are failing to portray themselves as the caring one-nation party.
A reasonable explanation perhaps, from the respected former leader of the party, whose resignation was met with both surprise and support from his colleagues.
In a strange twist, pensions minister Dr Ros Altmann launched a scathing attack on her previous boss, suggesting she had “been silenced by him” and that what she had said had been “strictly controlled”.
She stated her work as pension minister had been made difficult by IDS, writing, “I have found him exceptionally difficult to work for”. Dr Altmann’s personal view on her working relationship with the former minister ought to be respected, but she continued with more allegations, suggesting his resignation was a planned plot against the Conservative leadership over Europe and that his overriding intention was to get Britain to leave the EU.
In response to the allegation Mr Duncan Smith said his resignation had “absolutely nothing to do with Europe” and the accusation was a “deliberate attempt to put something out there to try to discredit me”. His former colleagues rushed to support the former minister, the disability minister, Justin Tomlinson, was quick to counter Dr Altmann, saying, “Iain always conducted himself in a professional, dedicated and determined manner”. Priti Patel, the minister for employment, praised his record at the Department.
But Dr Altmann continued to isolate herself with a further assault, via Twitter, tweeting: “IDS undermined my efforts to help on important pension policy issues like women’s pensions. Look [forward] to working with Stephen Crabb” (Mr Duncan Smith’s replacement).
Dr Altmann and Mr Duncan Smith were always heading for a debate over pensions. As a seasoned campaigner, and in contrast to him, she was in favour of keeping the ‘triple lock’ and was solidly against any means testing on winter fuel payments, free TV licences and public transport for pensioners.