Steve Webb, the Thornbury and Yate MP, has insisted government welfare cuts have been exaggerated in a speech at the Liberal democrat conference in Birmingham.
The minister for pensions said yesterday that he would not put his name to a policy that failed to protect the most vulnerable people in society.
In an attempt to allay fears in the party over the scale of government spending cutbacks, introduced after the party went into coalition with the Conservatives last year, Mr Webb said housing benefit spending would still be £22bn by the end of this parliament, the same as now.
When talking about disability benefits, he added spending on the personal independent payment at the end of this parliament would be exactly the same as the amount spent on disability living allowance at the beginning of this parliament – £12.3bn.
“We have had to take tough choices about restraining the growth of benefit spending, but always seeking to do so fairly by protecting the most vulnerable,” he said. “I wouldn’t put my name to anything else. And I know you wouldn’t either.”
Broaching the issue of private sector pensions, Mr Webb said he would act against firms who offered cash incentives to staff in return for them giving up their final salary pension – describing the offer as a “bung”.
He also promised to introduce plans to ensure the money invested in pensions was not “eaten up” in charges and that people got “good value” from their pensions.
Meanwhile, Bristol council leader Barbara Janke told the conference that the city was at the forefront of driving the digital revolution, but needed central government support.
“Britain is some years behind the world leaders in this and we need to get on with it,” she said.
A motion to urge government to set up a new department for the purpose was lost. But another, calling for the repeal of Labour legislation (part of the Digital Economy Act) to allow creative firms greater freedom to collaborate – which Barbara Janke supported – was passed by conference.