At the time of writing, some 227,147 people have signed a petition that demands a British politician live on £7.57 ($11.50) a day.
This isn’t a simple case of mob cruelty. Iain Duncan Smith, formerly the leader of the Conservative Party, is the Work and Pensions Secretary in the UK government, and responsible for benefit cuts that went into place yesterday.
Many view these cuts as harsh, and Duncan Smith unintentionally stoked the fire yesterday by telling BBC’s Radio 4 that he could live on £53 ($80.60) a week — one of the lowest rates of benefits for unemployed people — if he “had to”.
To critics of the cuts, this was gross hypocrisy. Duncan Smith earns £1,581.02 ($2401) a week at present— £225 ($342.79) a day after tax — so if he were actually forced to live on $11.50 a day that would be a drop in income reduction of 97%.
While the petition carries no legal weight, it has now been picked up by almost all of the major news outlets in the UK, and, as Sky News puts it, the petition is piling pressure on Duncan Smith.
It has more signatures than any e-petition currently on the government’s official petition website, for example. Some have even suggested the petition may have been rejected by the government website, hence its location on change.org.
In fact, there is a real, though perhaps distant, possibility that Duncan Smith could accept the challenge — other politicians have done so in the past. The Guardian notes that Conservative MP Matthew Parris struggled to survive on £26.80 a week in 1984, when he lived in a bedsit for a week for a TV show.
However, the petition asks that Duncan Smith live on the sum for “at least one year”, a big commitment for anyone, though one that would replicate at least some of the long-term budget problems people on benefits have.
(Alex Hern of the New Statesman has points out, however, Duncan Smith could probably live pretty comfortably on £53 if the task allowed him to make use of his current assets — he currently lives rent-free in a multi-million dollar Tudor mansion courtesy of his father-in-law.)
The outrage has drawn one minor concession from the UK government, however. Greg Clark, the Financial Secretary to the British Treasury, admitted today that “I think it’s an incredible struggle to [live on £53 a week] and I think any MP, anyone earning the comfortable wage that an MP has would certainly struggle.”
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