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Stephen Crabb: No further raids on welfare

By Gavin Cordon

Published 21/03/2016

New Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb 'not seeking further savings from the welfare budget'
New Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb 'not seeking further savings from the welfare budget'

New Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb has said there will be no further raid on welfare spending to fund the £4 billion black hole in the Budget left by the dramatic decision to abandon planned cuts to disability benefits.

Making his first appearance in the Commons since his appointment in the wake of the bombshell resignation on Friday of Iain Duncan Smith, Mr Crabb said there were "no further plans" for welfare savings beyond the Welfare Reform and Work Act.

"We won't be seeking alternative offsetting savings and ... we are not seeking further savings from the welfare budget," he told MPs.

Earlier David Cameron sought to defend under-fire Chancellor George Osborne - insisting that he deserved the credit for turning round the economy.

He also sought to begin the process of healing the deep wounds opened up by the departure of Mr Duncan Smith, praising his welfare reforms and reaffirming his commitment to "compassionate Conservatism".

However the Chancellor came under fire from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said the decision to abandon the planned cut to Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) had left an "enormous hole" in his Budget plans.

He called on Mr Osborne to come to the House to explain why "for the first time in my memory in Parliament, a Government's budget has fallen apart within two days of its delivery".

Mr Cameron played down Mr Osborne's decision not to answer a Commons emergency question by shadow chancellor John McDonnell on the changes himself - leaving it to junior Treasury minister David Gauke - saying the Chancellor would wind up the Budget debate on Tuesday.

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Earlier however Downing Street disclosed that Mr Osborne would not now be bringing forward alternative measures to meet the shortfall left by the cancellation of the cuts to PIPs until the Autumn Statement at the end of the year.

Mr Cameron also sought to defuse a damaging backbench revolt, confirming that ministers would not seek to oppose amendments to the Budget on the so-called "tampon tax" and VAT on solar panels.

Some Tory Eurosecptic MPs had signalled they intended to vote with Labour in an attempt to embarrass the Government over the role of the European Union in setting VAT rates ahead of the referendum on June 23.

However the Prime Minister's official spokeswoman said EU leaders had now agreed that VAT could be scrapped on women's sanitary products while the amendment on solar panels simply confirmed the current position while consultations were ongoing.

While Mr Cameron was reportedly furious over the way that Mr Duncan Smith resigned, there was no hint of anger with his former colleague as he paid tribute to the "enormous contribution" he had in six years in charge of welfare policy.

He nevertheless sought to reject Mr Duncan Smith's most damaging charge that he and Mr Osborne had sought to balance the books at the expense of the poor, insisting it was only possible to improve the life chances of the least well off if the economy was strong.

"Without sound public finances you end up having to raise taxes or make even deeper cuts in spending. You don't get more opportunity, you get less and it's working people who suffer," he said.

"So we must continue to cut the deficit, control the cost of welfare, and live within our means. We will continue with this approach in full because we are a modern, compassionate, One Nation Conservative Government."

While Mr Crabb said it would be "absurd" rule out any further welfare changes, he told MPs: "I can confirm that, after discussing this issue over the weekend with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, we have no further plans to make welfare savings beyond the very substantial savings legislated for by Parliament two weeks ago."

Mr Duncan Smith's resignation was particularly explosive as it came amid a highly-charged debate within the party over the EU referendum with Mr Cameron and Mr Duncan Smith on opposite sides of the party.

Eurosceptic former cabinet minister Peter Lilley sought to link the two issues, warning: "The British people will not take kindly to the idea that we must cut benefits to vulnerable people in order to hand over every penny to the EU."

His intervention underlined the difficultly Mr Cameron faces in bringing the two sides of his warring party together again once the referendum is over.

His former leadership rival David Davis - who like Mr Duncan Smith backs Leave - said the row had damaged Mr Osborne's chances of succeeding him as Prime Minister.

"If the leadership election were to be in the next six months I think he'd be sunk without trace. It doesn't kill him for ever, but I think at the moment it is quite harmful," he said.

Tory former health and social security secretary Lord Fowler criticised the role played by spin doctors and briefers in the war of words between Mr Osborne and the former minister.

Sitting next to ex-chancellor of the exchequer Lord Lawson of Blaby as the welfare statement was repeated in the upper house, Lord Fowler said: "Surely, we should remember that it has always been the case there has been tension between any social security secretary and any chancellor of the exchequer - and there have been rougher chancellors than this one.

"In the future it might be better to sort out differences, as we did, without the intervention of the spin doctors and anonymous briefers."

Pensions Minister Lord Freud replied: "I do accept his point that George Osborne is a pussy cat compared with some previous chancellors sitting not very far from me."

The Minister then heaped praise on Mr Duncan Smith.

"He was a remarkable champion for reform. I say it with feeling, there is a reason that no one transformed the system for the last 70, 80 years, and that is because it is very difficult to do.

"And he had the political guts to get on and do it, and I am very proud to have supported him and got the programme as far as it has gone, so I think he will go down in history for that achievement," Lord Freud said.

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