Anger over '£2.5bn welfare cuts'
Welfare cuts have come under renewed fire from disability charities as the Government tried to play down reports that it plans a £2.5 billion slashing of sickness benefit.
Critics accused the Tory-Lib Dem coalition of targeting the most vulnerable in its quest to find drastic savings in public spending to tackle the UK's record deficit.
Chancellor George Osborne signalled last week that he wanted to shave an extra £4 billion from the bill for state help - on top of £11 billion cuts made in June's emergency Budget.
He gave no details of where the axe would fall, but a letter leaked to the Observer showed that in June he had agreed a deal to reduce the Employment and Support Allowance by £2.5 billion.
Labour said cuts on that scale to the replacement for Incapacity Benefit could only be made by taking cash from the genuinely sick and disabled in what it dubbed "vicious cuts on the poorest", while disability charity Scope said it would put a "vital lifeline" at risk.
But Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said things had "moved on" since the letter was written - part of hard-fought negotiations with Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.
While Labour had left the Government with no choice but to make "significant" cuts in benefits to balance the books, they would be made in a "fair" way, he told Sky News.
Scope chief executive Richard Hawkes said: "The Government's promise to ensure fairness in the budget cuts is undermined by the revelation of its plans to cut £2.5 billion of support to disabled people.
"This highlights the critical need for the Government to undertake a full impact assessment to ensure that it is not the most vulnerable people that are hit the hardest by the cuts.
"Claiming employment and support allowance is not a 'lifestyle choice' for disabled people, but a crucial lifeline that enables them to participate in society."