Work and pensions secretary says he would be able to survive on lowest rate of jobseeker’s allowance given to adults under 25
Iain Duncan Smith is heading the government’s welfare reforms. Photograph: Rosie Hallam/Getty Images
The work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, has said he could live on £53 in benefits a week.
He made his statement as welfare reforms came into effect on Monday, including the so-called bedroom tax. It follows an interview on Sunday by Grant Schapps, the former housing minister and Conservative party chairman, who said his two sons shared a bedroom at his four-bed home.
Interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Duncan Smith was challenged on whether he could live on £7.57 a day, which was said to be the lowest rate of jobseeker’s allowance given to adults under 25. In fact the current rate is £56.25 a week.
“If I had to I would,” he replied. Duncan Smith, who has headed up the coalition’s welfare changes, said the government’s reforms were intended to get welfare “back into order”.
“We are in an economic mess,” he said. “We inherited a problem where we simply do not have the money to spend on all the things people would like us to do. What I am trying to do is get this so we don’t spend money on things that are unfair.”
The welfare minister is understood to have received benefits for a number of months after leaving the army when he was in his 20s.
Duncan Smith urged critics to get the issue in perspective, arguing that there was already no funding for extra rooms when people receivedhousing benefit to rent privately.
“They are exactly the same group of people,” he said. “The reality is taxpayers are subsidising people to live in these homes. They need to be reassured.”
The minister said the housing benefit bill had doubled in 10 years under Labour, and a quarter of a million people were living in overcrowdedsocial housing.
“What I am trying to do is at least use the money we have got to be fair,” he said. “What we are trying to do is get control of the welfare bill … without actually slashing or attacking people, we are trying to reform and change it.”
Answering questions on Sunday about whether scrapping a spare-room subsidy for social housing was fair, Shapps told Sky News it would free up housing waiting lists and added that two of his three children shared a room.
“It is wrong to leave people out in the cold with effectively no roof over their heads because the taxpayer is paying for rooms which aren’t in use. People share rooms quite commonly – my boys share a room.”
However, soon after the interview Sky News’s political producer Vincent McAviney revealed that Shapps lives in a four-bed house with one room used as a study.
“@grantshapps has told me that his home has 4 bedrooms with one being used as a study, ergo his children do not have to share room,” he tweeted. Shapps is understood to have answered that the difference was the taxpayer wasn’t funding his living arrangements.