CONTROVERSIAL welfare reforms, including tougher checks for those claiming disability benefits, were defended by a government minister on a visit to a mental health service in Summerseat.

Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith defended his raft of reforms which, he says, will save the taxpayer £50 million before the next General Election in 2015.

Mr Duncan Smith was speaking during a visit to Willow Cottage, which is run by health and social care provider Turning Point, and provides short-term accommodation to support adults with mental health problems.

He took part in a question and answer session with those who use the service, as well as medical practitioners and staff at Willow Cottage.

He said: “I see a lot of Turning Point across the country, and what they are doing is really good work in helping people who slip through the net in some cases.

“Individuals need care, attention and support, which is what they are given here, which is great.”

The government is starting to roll out the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which will replace the previous Disability Living Allowance (DLA).

Mr Duncan Smith told the Bury Times that, under the previous DLA system, 70 per cent of people who claimed were given the benefit for “life”, and that more rigorous checks will help and not hinder people.

He said: “The regular checks are about helping people. They are about saying ‘look, we need more face to face checks because we need to see how you are’.

“That helps everybody understand there may be more treatment required, maybe they have improved, maybe they have not improved, and if they have got worse, at least we know they have got worse.”

Mr Duncan Smith, a former leader of the Conservative Party, said his welfare reforms, which include introducing tougher criteria for people seeking disability allowances, will help people with mental health issues.

He said: “Up until now if you were one of that 70 per cent on DLA, no one ever saw you again because you have got a lifetime award.

“These are the sort of people that later on crash into the system, because they have got so much worse but nobody saw them.”

Mr Duncan Smith also defended the spare room subsidy, dubbed the “bedroom tax” by critics.

The subsidy was introduced on April 1 last year and saw residents in social housing receive a 14 per cent reduction in housing benefit if they had a spare room, or 25 per cent if they had two spare rooms.

Figures show 2,513 people across the borough are affected by the policy, but Mr Duncan Smith said it was helping to address the differences between the private and social housing sectors.

He said: “If you are unfortunate enough to go into a private house on local housing allowance, you don’t get a spare room. You only get paid the money for those rooms.

“It can’t be right that you have got two housing benefit tenants, possibly living next door to each other, one who is not allowed to have spare rooms and the other that is.”