Disability cuts backpeddle: a turning point for the disability rights movement?

New DH guru Fleur Perry, a freelance journalist and social commentator, joins our regular writers to bring you her thoughts and opinions on the latest political debates. This month, what else but the disability cuts and Ian Duncan Smith’s resignation.


For 6 years, one name has dominated discussions about welfare cuts: Iain Duncan Smith. He has been the Secretary for Work and Pensions and at the centre of every benefit cut argument. He’s been the man in charge of deciding who is worthy of assistance – and more importantly who is not – and he’s been getting it so spectacularly wrong it isn’t  even funny anymore.

Alongside this he’s been playing a huge PR balancing act – trying to prove to the voters that the Tories will not support scroungers, limiting access to any information that might change the voter’s mind, whilst trying to show that they are fair and care.

That is, until recently, when he quit

His resignation came just 10 days after Employment Support Allowance for people in the Work Related Activities Group was cut by £30, and two days after the announcement of cuts to Personal Independence Payments. In a letter to David Cameron, Ian Duncan Smith said:

“… the latest changes to benefits to the disabled and the context in which they’ve been made are a compromise too far… I am unable to watch passively whilst certain policies are enacted in order to meet the fiscal self-imposed restraints that I believe are more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest… 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.”

In other words, Mr Duncan Smith seems to be claiming that the Treasury had been rushing through some of the cuts without thinking of the long term impact, and then asking him to defend those cuts.

However, some commentators have speculated that Mr Duncan Smith had other reasons for leaving. Maybe he had been pushed to go because of his pro-Brexit Europe views. Or maybe he wanted to jump ship to maximise the damage to George Osbourne’s reputation. Either way, in my view this is not the artless flop from the Cabinet caused by a careless moment of public humiliation, but a choreographed 180 degree twist.

Whatever the true motives behind his resignation, the fallout from the debate has changed public policy for the near future, and could be the catalyst for better conversations between disability rights campaigners, politicians and the general public.

In response to widespread outcry, George Osbourne is on the record stating there are currently “no plans” for further disability benefit cuts. His reputation is on the rocks – Mr Osbourne cannot afford to break this promise for some time.

So what of the rest of the Budget? Is a Budget with tax increases for vaccine researchers the act of a desperate man? Is the Treasury’s aim of ending the deficit by 2020 an impossible mirage? It this promise of a brighter future outweighing any current woes?

The proposed cuts to Personal Independence Payments (PIP) were designed to save £1.4 billion, which funnily enough is almost the same amount as the Treasury needed to find to counterbalance new tax cuts. By the Wednesday evening of the Budget announcement, public opinion had shifted. On Thursday, the backbenchers had revolted and the media was in full frenzy, and on Friday Iain Duncan Smith declared the cuts  as “indefensible.”

It was not the magnitude of the now scrapped PIP cuts that swung public opinion, but the presence of a tax break of roughly equal worth. This transformed public’s perception of the Chancellor from a man making tough decisions in tough times to a modern day Sheriff of Nottingham, a clear baddie everyone could boo without needing a degree in economics to understand what was happening.

Mr Duncan Smith has been in politics and survived relatively scandal free for long enough to see that there was no way to spin out of this. George Osbourne’s cut on cuts is an admission of a battle lost: if disability benefit cuts were essential to the recovery of the economy and justifiably so, the Chancellor would be standing his ground, defending his policies.

Instead, he has in effect called a temporary truce. Calling the proposed cuts to PIP “a mistake” is an extraordinary move. But it shows that, in addition to the Chancellor having some instinct for self-preservation, there may be room for negotiation and rational discussion in the future.

There’s now a window of opportunity to ask for more evidence on welfare and other important policies: if the PIP cuts were not evidence based, were the Employment Support Allowance cuts? Is social care funding at an appropriate level? Were the cuts to Disabled Students Allowance justifiable?

Whilst public support is still present, these questions need to be asked and answered with a clear head. Mass outrage alone is unlikely to win over politicians, the media or the average person in the street; evidence, facts and figures will also be needed. Hopefully there will be opportunities to talk to people and find common ground whilst they’re open to listening.

Did your MP vote for or against the cuts to the Working Related Activities Group component of Employment Support Allowance? Find out here on the Public Whip website, where you can see whether your local MP has supported the issues you care about.

By Fleur Perry

What do you think and Ian Duncan Smith’s resignation? Do you think there is now an opportunity to make a change to the disability cuts? Tell us your thoughts by messaging us on Facebook, tweeting us @DHorizons, emailing us at or leaving your comments below.

One Comment

  1. Excellent article. I learnt some stuff – I wish the mainstream media were this informative.

    I disagree that IDS’ resignation was calculated or choreographed. I don’t believe his stated reasons for resignation for one second, but I also don’t believe he has the political acumen for political plots, Machiavellian or otherwise. I think he threw his dummy out of the pram after a perceived slight from Osborne and others. I don’t credit him with the ability for anything more.

    His replacement is a very clever, and dangerous, selection in my view. Somebody born without a silver spoon in their mouth, who thus ostensibly has legitimacy, but in reality is every bit as misguided, duplicitous and unpleasant as his predecessor (and very poorly informed, to boot.I

    Anyway, we all know that the real reason for IDS’ resignation is Alex Brooker’s righteous rant on the Last Leg ☺

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