TREASURY Chief Secretary Danny Alexander has denied that the coalition government's emergency Budget would disproportionately affect women and the poor.
Challenged by opposition MPs yesterday, Mr Alexander insisted that the Budget "hits those on the highest incomes hardest".
The package, including rises in VAT and capital gains tax, to cut the burgeoning budget deficit, was "fair" and "progressive", he said.
"This is a Budget that protects the most vulnerable - especially children in poverty and pensioners - while ensuring those with the broadest shoulders take the greatest share of the burden."
His comments came during the second-reading debate on the Budget-enacting Finance Bill after a study commissioned by shadow work and pensions secretary Yvette Cooper suggested women would bear the brunt of the Budget cuts.
Mr Alexander said the 2.5 per cent rise in VAT from January was "unavoidable" and dubbed it "Labour's inheritance tax" as he attacked the previous government for leaving the public finances in such poor shape.
Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Liam Byrne criticised Mr Alexander, who he said was "pursuing the now noble tradition of the Liberal Democrats fronting up some of this government's nastiest policies".
He added: "This was a Liberal Democrat defence of a emergency Budget, the emergency that was so great that the Chancellor cannot be bothered to join us to listen to the House's deliberations. Since we met last week to debate the Budget the economic horizon has darkened.
"After a year-and-a-half in which British families and businesses fought for this country's recovery, this Bill puts it at risk. All we have is an economic credo which is very clear - 'Where there is worry, let us spread fear, Where there is risk, let us bring danger'."