By a Newsnet reporter
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith is coming under increasing pressure to demonstrate his claim that he could live on £53 a week as an online petition calling on him to prove it reached 335,000 signatories.
Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday, Mr Duncan Smith said that he would be able to live on £53 a week if he had to.
Mr Duncan Smith made the claim after a previous interviewee on the programme, market trader David Bennett, said that after a cut to his Housing Benefit, he was left with just £53 a week to live on. The interviewer then asked Mr Duncan Smith if he could live on this amount. He replied: “If I had to, I would.”
The petition, hosted on the online petitions site Change.org calls on the Work and Pensions Secretary to live on £53 a week for at least a year, saying: “This would help realise the conservative party`s current mantra that ‘We are all in this together’.”
Mr Duncan Smith’s income as a government minister is £1,581.02 a week or £225 a day after tax. He lives in a large house with an estimated value of £2 million which he inherited from his father-in-law. Living on £53 a week would represent a drop of 97% in Mr Duncan Smith’s income. He also claimed £98,077 in expenses for the year 2008-9.
Newsnet Scotland has also learned that between September 2001 to December 2002, Mr Duncan Smith controversially paid his wife approximately £15000, out of his MP’s expenses, to act as his diary secretary. The sum works out at around £250 per week, five times the amount Mr Bennett is expected to live on without taking inflation into account. However an investigation by BBC journalist Michael Crick found that Mrs Duncan Smith in fact did little or no official work for her husband.
The Commons Standards Committee later ruled that Mr Duncan Smith’s arrangements “were not ideal” but that no rules had been broken.
With 335,000 signatures by Tuesday night, the petition has received more support than any other currently open on the Government’s e-petition website.
Speaking to Sky News, Dom Aversano, who set up the petition, said that there was a “gigantic gulf” between the lifestyle and personal wealth of cabinet ministers such as Mr Duncan Smith and the great majority of the population.
Mr Aversano said of the Work and Pensions Secretary:
“Look at where he is living, the conditions under which he is living.
“He did a brilliant PR exercise before to depict himself as a compassionate Conservative. He’s nothing of the sort, he’s viciously attacking the most vulnerable and poorest members of society.”
Mr Aversano added that Mr Duncan Smith had “put himself in this position. He made the claim and set himself up for this. It’s for him to respond.”
Speaking to his local newspaper, Mr Duncan Smith dismissed the petition as a “stunt”, saying:
“[This petition 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.”