Iain Duncan Smith suffered a backlash from cabinet colleagues yesterday after he suggested that wealthy pensioners should voluntarily hand back their universal benefit payments.
The Work and Pensions Secretary's comments caused confusion within his own department — which stressed that he was not making a policy announcement — and surprised other senior ministers. His remarks were also seen as a swipe at David Cameron's commitment not to trim back pensioners' benefits for the lifetime of this parliament, which runs until 2015.
Ministers are due to submit their final bids to the Treasury tomorrow ahead of the next spending review in June, and Mr Duncan Smith is under pressure to identify more savings. He said yesterday there were “no plans” to alter the universal benefits paid to pensioners, but urged them to return the cash if they didn’t need it.
Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, said it was right that “very wealthy pensioners” should make sacrifices, but he scornfully rejected the idea of a system of repayments to the Treasury.