POLITICS

George Osborne Attacks 'Shrill' Critics of Benefit Cuts

02/04/2013 13:15 BST | Updated 02/04/2013 15:01 BST

George Osborne has defended the coalition's controversial cuts in benefit payments and attacked his critics for peddling "shrill, headline-seeking nonsense".

In a speech at a branch of the Morrisons supermarket in Kent on Tuesday, the chancellor said those who defend the previous benefit system would respond with "depressingly predictable outrage" to the new regime and were "out of touch" with voters.

"Those who campaign against a cap on benefits for families who aren’t working are completely out of touch with how the millions of working families, who pay the taxes to fund these benefits, feel about this," he said.

"The pundits and politicians who are spending this week firing off letters to newspapers, or touring the television studios, are missing what people actually want."

The chancellor's speech comes after 660,000 social housing tenants deemed to have a spare room began to lose an average £14 a week in what critics have dubbed a "bedroom tax".

Wider welfare and tax changes coming into force this month will also see council tax benefit funding cut, and working-age benefits and tax credit rises pegged at 1% - well below inflation - for three years.

From this month no family that is out of work will be able to receive more than £26,000 a year in benefit, or£18,000 for a single adult.

Osborne rarely gives high profile speeches, and his decision to come out fighting on his reforms demonstrates he is confident his welfare reforms have the support of the public.

Labour have claimed that the average family is £891 worse off since the coalition came to power in 2010, taking all tax and benefit changes into account.

Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith said yesterday that the changes were about "fairness".

But he was also facing a backlash after suggesting that he could get by on £53 a week, as one benefit recipient argued they were having to, rather than his current after-tax income of £1,600 a week.

"If I had to I would," Duncan Smith told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

In the wake of the comment, more than 140,000 people signed a petition on the change.org website, calling for the minister to try surviving on that money for a year.

Osborne also defended his decision to cut the top rate of tax rom 50p to 45p, a decision attacked by Labour as a tax cut for millionaires, as "an economic essential".

"The 50p tax was a big tax con. When the 50p rate was introduced, the amount collected in income tax fell by billions of pounds as the wealthy paid less," he said.

"So we got the worst of both worlds: a tax rate that discouraged enterprise and didn't raise more money from the rich."

Labour's shadow Treasury minister Chris Leslie said the chancellor was unfairly punishing the poor while rewarding the wealthy.

"While millionaires get an average £100,000 tax cut this week Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) figures show that the average family will be £891 worse off this year because of tax and benefit changes since 2010," he said.

"And just looking at the new changes this week the poorest 10% are losing £127 while the richest 10% gain 10 times that - £1265. Labour would not be making these deeply unfair choices this week."