Conservative conference: Welfare needs 'cultural shift'

Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith attacked what he called Labour's "bitter legacy" of welfare dependency

The government will bring about a "complete cultural shift" in its efforts to end reliance on benefits, Iain Duncan Smith has promised.

The work and pensions secretary told the Conservative conference the country was on "a journey back from dependence to independence".

Planned housing benefit cuts would lead more people to look for work, he added.

Mr Duncan Smith's speech followed Chancellor George Osborne promising an extra £10bn of welfare spending cuts.

The savings, to come in by 2016-17, would come on top of £18bn in savings announced in 2010.

Mr Duncan Smith is understood to have initially resisted the latest proposal, arguing money should be found by means-testing benefits such as free bus passes and winter fuel payments for better-off pensioners.

'Much to do'

But, in his speech, he backed the chancellor and instead attacked Labour for leaving a "bitter legacy" of excessive spending on benefits, adding: "You won't solve an economic problem by denying it."

The government is altering the system by introducing a cap on welfare payments of £26,000 per household from next April and bringing in a "universal benefit", replacing the current range of out-of-work benefits.

Mr Duncan Smith said: "Now we are toughening up the penalty for failure to seek work. Where claimants fail to meet their clear responsibilities, benefit will be withdrawn for three months for the first offence, six months for the second and three years for the third.

"Despite all of the progress we've made in the last two years, there is still much to do."

He added: "We will have reduced welfare bills by £18bn at the time of the next election and reformed welfare so it will be more effective.

"Early action to cut spending has helped reduce the deficit by a quarter but, with the rest of Europe and the USA in trouble, it's small wonder the UK economy isn't growing as we had hoped.

"George Osborne and I recognise this means we will have to make further savings in the welfare budget, but as we save we are agreed we must relentlessly focus what we do on transforming lives.

"Gone must be the days when governments spent money to buy their way out of a problem."

Mr Duncan Smith cited Department for Work and Pensions research that suggests the cap on housing benefit - due to come in next year - meant a third of people in receipt of payments would look for work.

He said: "Even before we bring it in, capping benefits is having an effect."

Concluding his speech, Mr Duncan Smith told delegates in Birmingham: "[It] must be our mission, plain and simple - a mission, not to change people but to restore them. Through fair government, give them the same hope and aspiration that we would all want for our children.

"To deliver this mission is to govern as Conservatives. That and only that is the way to win the next election."

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