UK Politics

Benefit reforms: Iain Duncan Smith 'has lived on breadline'

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Media captionIain Duncan Smith: "People are subsidised to live in houses where there are spare bedrooms."

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has insisted he knows what it is like to "live on the breadline".

The comment comes after 330,000 people signed a petition urging Mr Duncan Smith to try living on £53 a week.

He dismissed this as a "complete stunt", telling the Wanstead and Woodford Guardian he had been unemployed twice in his life.

The debate follows a welfare shake-up including cuts to housing benefit for some social housing tenants.

Campaigners argue this will hit vulnerable families, but ministers say they are making difficult decisions to incentivise work.

Mr Duncan Smith told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Monday, the day the changes came into force, that he could survive on £53 a week.

It followed a challenge from David Bennett, 51, a market trader from County Durham.

He said: "Because I've earned the massive amount of £2,700 I have gone over the government threshold for receiving full housing benefit. I was getting £75 a week, I'm now getting I think it is £57 a week and I've also got to pay £5 a week towards council tax which was previously paid for."

'Already done this'

Mr Duncan Smith's remark prompted an online petition, hosted at Change.org, calling on the work and pensions secretary "to live on this budget for at least one year".

It says: "This would help realise the Conservative Party's current mantra that 'We are all in this together'.

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Media captionDom Arvesano, behind IDS petition: 'It went viral very quickly'

"This would mean a 97% reduction in his current income, which is £1,581.02 a week or £225 a day after tax."

More than 330,000 people had signed the petition by 22:30 BST on Tuesday.

But Mr Duncan Smith, MP for Chingford and Woodford Green, told the Wanstead and Woodford Guardian: "This is a complete stunt which distracts attention from the welfare reforms which are much more important and which I have been working hard to get done.

"I have been unemployed twice in my life so I have already done this. I know what it is like to live on the breadline."

Chancellor George Osborne was also challenged about whether he could survive on £53 a week.

He said: "I don't think it's sensible to reduce this debate to an argument about one individual's set of circumstances.

"We have a welfare system where there are lots of benefits to people on very low incomes."

Note 5 April 2013: This story has been updated to add in a direct quote from Mr Bennett about his financial situation, for the sake of clarity.

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