UK Politics

Osborne defends benefits cuts announcement

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Media captionGeorge Osborne defended the cuts in the House of Commons

Chancellor George Osborne has defended plans to make further cuts to the welfare bill, saying current levels of spending on benefits cannot continue.

He told MPs that further welfare cuts were needed to "take the pressure" off other government departments, which face cuts of between 25% and 40%.

But he declined to say whether he was planning a further £4bn cut in benefits on top of £11bn already announced.

Labour said the chancellor was "not being straight" with Parliament.

Mr Osborne came under fire last week after he told the BBC that welfare spending was "completely out of control" and suggested people making a "lifestyle choice" to live on benefits rather than trying to find work could find their support cut.

He told the BBC last week that the Treasury could announce a further £4bn of welfare savings in next month's spending review on top of £11bn outlined in May's Budget.

Making an urgent statement in the Commons, Mr Osborne said welfare spending had increased 45% in the past 10 years and the government could not continue to spend one in three pounds of its total budget on welfare.

Restating the coalition's goal of fundamental reform of welfare, he said rewarding work would be "absolutely central" to the plans but those genuinely unable to work would be protected.

Although there would be "difficult" choices in the spending review, he said decisions taken would be fair to "different sections of society and different generations".

'Nasty attack'

The Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Yvette Cooper urged Mr Osborne to "come clean" about his plans, saying what had been already announced was a "nasty attack" on the most vulnerable.

She questioned the timing of the chancellor's BBC interview, suggesting it had "everything to do" to wanting to deflect attention from questions regarding the senior No 10 aide Andy Coulson over allegations of phone hacking while he was a tabloid newspaper editor.

Mr Osborne was asked to attend the Commons by the Speaker to answer the urgent question from Lib Dem MP Bob Russell, who was critical of the decision being announced in the media.

Mr Russell, whose party is in coalition with the Conservatives, said the "disadvantaged in society" would be worst hit by the plans.

He said blaming the country's financial problems on benefit cheats was "unethical" and called for more emphasis on tackling tax avoidance by the wealthy and on higher taxes for the better off.

Referring to reports of disagreements between Mr Osborne and Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, he said the two men were involved in an "immature turf war".

But Mr Osborne said the two men had a "strong relationship".