Smith resigns as UK pensions minister

UK – Andrew Smith unexpectedly resigned as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions last night, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family and his constituents.

There had been newspaper speculation he was to be dropped by Prime Minister Tony Blair in a forthcoming Cabinet reshuffle. Smith is seen as an ally of Chancellor Gordon Brown and his decision is reported in the UK media as being within the context of a power struggle between Brown and Blair.

Smith, 53, had been in the role since May 2002 and is Member of Parliament for Oxford.

“Over the summer I have discussed with my family the contribution I wish to make in public life. I have chosen to leave the government and to devote more time to the responsibilities I enjoy in my constituency and to my family,” Smith said in his letter to Blair.

“I am grateful for your support and that of colleagues, in the work we have done to cut unemployment, to tackle child and pensioner poverty, to create the Pension Protection Fund and to extend the rights of disabled people.

Blair replied: “I am sorry that you have taken the decision to resign from the Government. As you say in your letter, I very much wanted you to stay but I accept that your mind is made up. You have been an excellent colleague and a first class Minister who will be greatly missed. “

Smith’s department was due to bear the brunt of civil service job cuts and the interim findings of a government-commissioned review of pensions policy is due next month.

Possible candidates for his replacement include trade secretary Patricia Hewitt and schools minister David Miliband or treasury minister Ruth Kelly, media said.

Meanwhile the opposition Liberal Democrats have put forward proposals under which those aged over 75 would get their state pension boosted by 25 pounds a week.

The party said the “Citizen's Pension” would restore the link between pensions and earnings for over-75s, who the party says are the most vulnerable pensioners.

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