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Osborne denies benefit cuts claims

Chancellor George Osborne has defended his plans for further reductions in welfare spending, insisting they will be delivered by necessary reforms of the benefit system to ensure that those who can work, do work.

But Labour accused him of a "nasty" attack on the most sick and disabled people in society, following an interview last week in which he said he would cut £4 billion from welfare in next month's spending review, on top of £11 billion savings announced in the Budget.

Mr Osborne's comments exposed strains within the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, and he was forced to come to the House of Commons to explain his plans by disgruntled Lib Dem backbenchers.

The Chancellor declined to discuss the £4 billion figure in the statement, prompting shadow work and pensions secretary Yvette Cooper to accuse him of "not being straight" with MPs - an allegation she was ordered to withdraw by Speaker John Bercow.

Ms Cooper said that savings from forcing claimants who are fit to work off disability benefits were already included in Treasury costings, and the additional cuts would hit those who were genuinely ill.

"He is targeting those who are most sick and most disabled in society," she told MPs.

"Isn't the truth that he has decided to hit those he knows will find it harder to fight back? This isn't progressive, it's a nasty attack and he should withdraw it now."

She demanded to know whether Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith had agreed the £4 billion savings. A leaked letter from Mr Osborne yesterday suggested that he and the Work and Pensions Secretary had agreed to slash £2.5 billion from Employment and Support Allowance alone, but Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander said that things had "moved on" since the letter was written.

Mr Osborne told MPs he had made clear in the Budget in June that he would be seeking further welfare reductions in the spending review. The welfare bill had risen 45% in the last decade and ate up one-third of Government spending, he said.

"The current system is not protecting those who genuinely cannot work, nor is it helping those desperately looking for work to find a new job quickly," the Chancellor told MPs.


From Belfast Telegraph