Peter Hoskin

Another difference of opinion on welfare?

Another difference of opinion on welfare?
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For the briefest of moments, the welfare war seemed to have quietened down. But, this morning, a new front may have flared open. Answering questions from the work and pensions committee, Iain Duncan Smith has struck out against the figures for benefit cuts that emerged at the weekend. The Guardian's Haroon Siddique reports:

"During questioning by the work and pensions committee, Duncan Smith was at pains to play down newspaper reports that he and Osborne were at loggerheads with each other. But when asked by committee chair Anne Begg about a variety of figures that had been 'bandied about' including the £11bn savings set out in the June budget and the £4bn, he responded: 'As with regards to figures like 4bn, I simply do not recognise that figure at all.'"

And the Beeb's Laura Kuenssberg tweeted that:

"IDS says he has made NO commitments yet to save cash in CSR."

There is, it has to be said, a mysterious haze around that £4 billion figure, which IDS's comments serve to intensify. When interviewed by the BBC at the weekend, George Osborne said only that the welfare bill would be cut by "several billions of pounds additional to what I announced in the Budget" – the BBC were then briefed, and reported, that this meant £4 billion of cuts. But the Treasury has since declined to confirm the figure, and Osborne didn't refer to it, even when pushed, in Parliament on Monday. Hm.

Whether this has come about because of crossed wires, or straightforward kite-flying on the part of the Treasury team, one thing is clear: the welfare budget is still up for grabs. With the Spending Review only a month away, untying this most frenzied of knots has to be among the coalition's most urgent priorities.