370,000 call for British aristocratic minister to live on $99.25 a week

LONDON (AFP) - An online petition calling for a British minister to survive on 53 pounds (S$99.25) a week, after he claimed he knew what it was like to live on the breadline, had attracted the support of over 370,000 people by Wednesday.

The petition was launched after Works and Pensions Minister Iain Duncan Smith told a man who runs a market stall that he could live on the measly amount if he had to.

Mr Duncan Smith, of Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party, dismissed the petition as a "complete stunt", but it has prompted a wider backlash against a raft of welfare reforms that come into effect this week.

Market trader David Bennett asked on BBC radio on Tuesday if Mr Duncan Smith could live on 53 pounds, to which the minister replied: "If I had to I would".

The petition was subsequently set up by a musician, challenging the minister to give up his 134,565-pound yearly salary and live on just over 200 pounds a month.

The online petition, hosted at www.change.org, says: "This petition calls on Iain Duncan Smith to live on this budget for at least one year. This would help realise the Conservative Party's current mantra that 'We are all in this together'. This would mean a 97 per cent reduction in his current income, which is 1,581.02 pounds a week, or 225 pounds a day, after tax."

Mr Duncan Smith, a former leader of the Conservative Party, told his local constituency newspaper in north-east London that he had twice been unemployed in his life and knew what it was like "to live on the breadline".

"This is a complete stunt which distracts attention from the welfare reforms which are much more important and which I have been working hard to get done," he said in the Wanstead and Woodford Guardian.

Mr Duncan Smith is married to an aristocrat and lives in a 17th century mansion.

A raft of reforms began to take effect this week as the coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats seeks to cut welfare spending.

In one of the measures, 660,000 public housing tenants deemed to have a spare room began to lose an average of 14 pounds a week in welfare payments in what critics have dubbed a "bedroom tax".