Ian Duncan Smith

Policy differences or simply not up to the job?

On 18 March 2016, Duncan Smith unexpectedly resigned from David Cameron's Cabinet. He stated he was unable to accept the government's planned cuts to disability benefits. 

Iain Duncan Smith ( known as IDS) who was a former Conservative leader from 2001 to 2003 and had been work and pensions secretary since 2010 until he resigned in March 2016. His publicly stated reason for resignation was that cuts to the welfare budget, in particular to disability benefits, were a ‘compromise too far’ during austerity and the government’s drive to reduce the budget deficit. He argued that instead the cuts should come from reducing benefits for better-off older people. Also noteworthy is the fact it had already been announced a few days earlier that the proposed benefit cuts were not going ahead, so it was not quite such a straightforward resignation over policy differences.

“I am unable to watch passively while certain policies are enacted in order to meet the fiscal self-imposed restraints that I believe are more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest,” Duncan Smith wrote in a resignation letter to Cameron. 

However it is also likely that Ian Duncan Smith saw disability benefits cuts as a final straw and that longer-term factors were at play. Some saw Duncan Smith’s resignation as the culmination of a long-running feud with the Treasury focused on the roll-out of the new Universal Credit benefit, which he believed was his crowning legislative achievement which  had been undermined by Treasury interference and cost cutting.

 His decision was controversial, with many suggesting that it had more to do with the European Union than it does with his stated reason of cuts to Personal Independence Payments. 

There were also reports of difficulties with George Osborne, who had allegedly said that he thought Duncan Smith was ‘just not clever enough’.  Ian Duncan Smith was widley seen as 'not up to the complex job of the much delayed and poorly delivered, benefits reform. There were also tensions over Europe — Duncan Smith was a staunch Brexiteer unlike both Osborne and Cameron. 

Finally, after 6 years in the post, an unusually long time for any cabinet minister to stay in one post, he might have been pushed out soon anyhow in a cabinet reshuffle. After more than six years in office  his career at DWP was coming to an end anyway, he may have decided it was best to go on his own terms.