Work and pensions secretary defends welfare reform record in Northampton

Northampton North MP Michael Ellis and work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith canvassing in  Northampton yesterday.
Northampton North MP Michael Ellis and work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith canvassing in Northampton yesterday.

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith defended his record on welfare reform - and the ‘bedroom tax’ - as he canvassed for Tory votes on the streets of Northampton.

The work and pensions secretary joined the MP for Northampton North Michael Ellis to knock on doors around the town.

When Labour’s shadow housing minister Emma Reynolds visited Northampton last month she revealed how Labour would repeal the under occupancy charge, which sees housing benefit reduced for households with spare bedrooms, if the party were to get into power on May 7.

But in an interview with the Chronicle & Echo Mr Duncan Smith said the so called ‘bedroom tax’ has been a success.

“Labour say these things, but they don’t really explain how they will pay for it,” he said.

“This is about a charge on people who are living in houses they don’t fully occupy, while we have people living in overcrowded houses.

“Isn’t is better for local authorities to ensure they move people to the right properties and sort out the housing problem?”

Measures introduced by Mr Duncan Smith under the 2012 Welfare Reform Act, have been the source of a number of protests in Northampton.

The act introduced tougher assessments for those hoping to receive disability benefits and has seen many people in Northampton classed as ‘fit to work’ after years of claiming sickness payments.

But Mr Duncan-Smith said the assessments have been fair and claimed his reforms have saved the Treasury £50 billion.

“When I came into power in 2010, one in five social households had no one in work,” he said.

“We had a real problem. We had people trapped in benefits.”

He added: “The honest truth is we are now seeing people who were once parked on sickness benefits now going into work.

“If people are not able to work they will not be asked to.

“The key point is that if you can go to work I have always believed you should.”

Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Northampton North, Sally Keeble, said: “It would be interesting to know what the people of Northampton thought about his welfare reforms.

“The introduction of Universal Credit has been chaotic and PIP payments have resulted in a great deal of hardship for people who are vulnerable.”