The Conservatives are now "the party of the poor," Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has said. He told a meeting at the Tories' annual conference that his party, rather than Labour, had the best policies to tackle inequality. The previous government had spent "vast sums" but made the gap between rich and poor worse, he said.
However, Mr Duncan Smith conceded the coalition's changes would take a "little while" to bear results. Addressing a meeting arranged by the Centre for Social Justice think-tank, which he himself established, the minister said: "We are the party focused on the poor, so it follows that you might legitimately say that we are the party of the poor."
Even though Labour had tried to lift people out of poverty, "some of the people in the people in the deepest poverty went backwards" under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, he added. "Labour spent vast sums of money and left income inequality in the worst state since I have been born," said Mr Duncan Smith, who was Conservative leader from 2001 to 2003.
The coalition was "dealing with causes of social breakdown", whereas predecessors had pursued a "containment policy". This meant they had spent "a lot of money to keep people inactive and depressed about their lives".
Putting this right would be "like turning a super tanker around" and it was going to be a "little while" before the results of his policies became obvious. But he said the welfare-to-work programme and a plan for a Universal Benefit payments, due to start coming into effect in 2013, would succeed in getting more people into employment. "Things the last government talked about we have managed to do," he claimed.
Mr Duncan Smith also spoke of the difficulties of working within a coalition government, arguing: "We won't compromise on much by the end of it. The reality is it is all about timing." He took a swipe at "sneery" newspaper columnists who criticised the government's plan to favour marriage in the tax system and who claimed that people would not walk up the aisle for a few extra pounds a month.
"People who have money make stupid arguments like that," he said, adding that the focus of his department's efforts was on "couple formation" rather than marriage. If they were to stay together for an extended period of time that would be a great leap forward," he said of couples on the breadline.