Damian Green has insisted the government did not try to use the cover of the Copeland and Stoke by-elections to sneak out cuts to disability benefits.
The government is facing a backbench Tory backlash against plans to roll back a legal ruling extending the personal independence payments (PIP) disability benefit.
A tribunal has ruled that the criteria for qualifying for PIP payments should be expanded to include more people with mental health conditions. It is expected to include 160,000 extra people and cost £3.5bn.
The government disagrees and moved to block the ruling in parliament on Thursday - as most MPs were focused on the by-elections.
But Green, the work and pensions secretary, today dismissed suggestions he had behaved in a secretive way.
“The idea this was slipped out is simply ridiculous,” he told the Commons. “Far form being slipped out, we in the department made a huge effort to let people know this was happening. I personally left a message with the shadow secretary of state.”
Green told MPs today the decision to block the expansion of PIP was “not a spending cut”.
“This will not result in any claimant seeing a reduction in the amount of PIP previously awarded,” he said.
And Green said more people with mental health conditions received payments under PIP than they did under the previous Disability Living Allowance system.
The head of Theresa May’s policy unit yesterday said he regretted “any offence” caused by comments in which he appeared to indicate people suffering anxiety were not “really disabled”.
George Freeman said he had personal experience of the problem and knew “all too well” the pain caused by anxiety and depression.
Tory MP Heidi Allen has urged the government not to go ahead with plans to roll back extending the key disability benefit, telling ministers: “Don’t do it.”
She called for a top-to-bottom review of the PIP system, which she said was “not fit for purpose”.
She told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme she believed other Tory backbenchers would share her view.
“In my view, the courts are there for a reason,” said Ms Allen.
“If they have come up with this ruling, which says that the criteria should be extended, then I believe we have a duty to honour that. That is their role.
“Does that mean we should look at the process as a whole? Frankly I think we should do that anyway. It is not fit for purpose at the moment.”