More than 150,000 people have signed a petition to prevent Iain Duncan Smith – the architect of universal credit and the “bedroom tax” – from receiving his knighthood.
The Conservative MP’s inclusion in the New Year’s Honours list sparked a furious response from those who argued his reforms to the welfare system had pushed thousands into poverty and contributed to premature deaths.
The petition, launched by NHS psychiatrist Dr Mona Kamal Ahmed on Friday, claims Mr Duncan Smith is “responsible for some of the cruellest, most extreme welfare reforms this country has ever seen”.
It referenced the United Nations inquiry into Britain’s welfare system during his stewardship of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which concluded the government was responsible for “grave and systemic violations” of the rights of disabled people.
Dr Ahmed branded his ennoblement “an insult to the hundreds of thousands of vulnerable individuals across this country who are suffering as a result of his policies and to those who have tragically lost loved ones as a direct result”.
The Chingford and Woodford Green MP was Tory leader between 2001 to 2003, and after stepping down, co-founded the Centre for Social Justice, which the honours committee credits with putting social justice “at the heart of British politics”, as per the centre’s statement of intent.
The centre has been described as hugely influential on Conservative Party policy during David Cameron’s leadership, and in 2010 Mr Duncan Smith was appointed the work and pensions minister.
During his tenure, the DWP faced criticism for punitive fit-to-work assessments, overseeing ideology-driven cuts to disability payments and introducing the controversial universal credit system, amid a culture that often saw those reliant on benefits dubbed “scroungers”.
While Mr Duncan Smith later admitted Work Capability Assessments were ”too harsh”, charities criticised his universal credit project and the long wait for payments as exacerbating poverty and food bank use, with MPs hearing from women who had been forced to resort to sex work in order to survive as a result.
He also claimed methadone addicts should not be “parked” on methadone, and argued for a time-limit to be put in place.
The plans were rejected by the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs as likely to increase HIV infection, relapse rates, and the number of deaths – which have steadily risen since the government placed an emphasis on achieving abstinence in 2010, and are at their highest level since records began.
In 2016, Mr Duncan Smith resigned as work and pensions minister in objection to cuts to personal independence payments by then-chancellor George Osborne, which he described as a “compromise too far”.
He has since campaigned to leave the “dictatorial” EU and was appointed chairman of Boris Johnson’s campaign in the Tory leadership race in June.
Organisers said this year’s honours was compiled by priorities set when Ms May was still prime minister – rather than Boris Johnson.
Responding to the decision, his Labour rival in the recent election, Faiza Shaheen, wrote in The Guardian: “What sort of message does this send to families plunged into poverty by his cruel welfare policies? Their hardship is effectively being celebrated.”
However, Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary, has defended the decision to hand a knighthood to his colleague.
“I have never worked alongside someone more willing to face unpopularity for standing up for his deeply held principles and moral convictions,” he tweeted in support of Mr Duncan Smith.
The Independent has contacted Mr Duncan Smith’s office for comment.