UK Politics

Jeremy Hunt tax credit comments 'misinterpreted', David Cameron says

Jeremy Hunt Image copyright PA

David Cameron has defended Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt after he suggested tax credit cuts would motivate Britons to work as hard as people in China.

The prime minister said Mr Hunt had been "rather unfairly misinterpreted".

Mr Hunt faced criticism from unions and charities after saying the controversial reforms would send out a "cultural signal" to low paid workers.

He has said his comments were "wilfully misinterpreted" by the media.

The government is facing calls to mitigate the effect of the tax credit reforms, which include lowering the threshold at which the full amounts are paid.

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The Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned it is "arithmetically impossible" for nobody to lose out under the changes, which come into effect at the end of the year.

'Creating a culture'

Another think tank, The Resolution Foundation, which is headed by former Conservative minister David Willetts, said more than one million households would lose an average of £1,350 a year.

Mr Hunt's comments came at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.

"We have to proceed with these tax credit changes because they are a very important cultural signal," he said.

"My wife is Chinese and if we want this to be one of the most successful countries in the world in 20, 30, 40 years time there is a pretty difficult question that we have to answer which is, essentially, are we going to be a country which is prepared to work hard in a way that Asian economies are prepared to work hard, in a way that Americans are prepared to work hard?

'These things happen'

"And that is about creating a culture where work is at the heart of our success."

Single-parent charity Gingerbread accused him of "demonising" low-income families, while Unite union general secretary Len McCluskey described the comments as "a disgraceful insult" from the "richest member of the Cabinet".

But speaking on BBC Radio 5 Mr Cameron said Mr Hunt had been saying he wanted the UK to be "one of the great success stories of the 21st century".

The PM said the UK was "very hard-working as a country", with more people in work than ever before.

He added: "So I think he has been rather unfairly misinterpreted, but these things happen."

Mr Cameron also denied that the tax credit changes would be penalising people - saying that they were part of a package of changes - with a higher minimum wage and a higher starting point for paying tax - which would change the UK into a place with higher pay and lower welfare and lower tax.

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