Suella Braverman has been criticised by experts after saying she wanted to cut welfare spending due to a “Benefits Street culture” in the UK.
Speaking at a fringe event at the Tory party conference on Tuesday, the home secretary claimed “far too many people” are “fit to work” but choose to claim welfare instead.
Braverman was responding to a question on whether benefits should increase with the rate of inflation so claimants would not see real-term cuts to their income.
Torsten Bell, chief executive of The Resolution Foundation think-tank, called the home secretary's comments “nonsense”, pointing out that the vast majority of people who receive universal credit are either employed or unable to work due to disabilities or caring responsibilities.
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According to the latest government figures, 41% of people who receive universal credit are employed.
Some 30% of recipients are not able to work due to health reasons or caring responsibilities.
Bell said: “Terrified by how swiftly we’ve gone from 'we reluctantly have to cut benefits to pay for our essential tax cuts' to 'we actively want to cut benefits to punish the work-shy.'
He added: “We’ve got amongst the highest employment rates on record and the recent fall is amongst older workers who aren’t claiming benefits.”
Liz Truss has been struggling to maintain cabinet discipline following her U-turn over the tax cut for top earners, with the issue of uprating benefits emerging as the latest divide in the party.
On Tuesday, ministers Robert Buckland and Penny Mordaunt said it “makes sense” to increase benefits in line with soaring inflation rather than deliver a real-terms cut.
Mordaunt joined backbench rebels in calling for welfare payments to be raised in line with inflation, which has been at around 10%, rather than earnings at 5%.
Truss is considering a rise in line with the far lower earnings figure.
Mordaunt told Times Radio: “I’ve always supported, whether it’s pensions, whether it’s our welfare system, keeping pace with inflation. It makes sense to do so.
"That’s what I voted for before and so have a lot of my colleagues.”
Braverman has become the most high-profile minister to attack the welfare state.
She previously said she wanted to cut spending in this area during the Tory leadership election campaign.
On Tuesday, she refused to be drawn on whether benefits should be updated in line with inflation.
Braverman said: “We have got a lot of carrots to get people into work but we have got to add more conditionality and a bit more stick.”
She cited her constituency of Fareham in Hampshire as having some areas which had this culture.
She said there were pockets of communities across the UK where “families had known nothing but welfare.”
Richard Murphy, professor of accounting practice at Sheffield University, said: “Braverman is engaging in class warfare – with a pack of lies and total misinformation that is informed by prejudice.”
On Monday, Truss and chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng made a drastic U-turn in the face of widespread criticism from the public and Tory MPs and axed their plans to abolish the top rate of income tax.
The turmoil over the tax cut has led to chaos within the Conservative party, with Cabinet discipline appearing to break down and MPs going public with statements breaking the party line on policy decisions.
Braverman also expressed her disappointment Truss had backtracked on her decision to abolish the 45% rate for earnings over £150,000 and accused Tory rebels like Michael Gove of staging a “coup”.