HITTING the most vulnerable with benefit cuts is 'unacceptable', according to Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood.
The Lib Democrat's critical comments put him on collision course with the Tory-led Coalition Government, although he stopped short of saying he would vote against the measures, pointing out it could threaten securing concessions in the face of 'wilder' Conservative ideas.
Mr Horwood is to speak to party colleagues to decide how to respond to the controversial plans.
His remarks come after the Chancellor announced a £3.7 billion squeeze on welfare in his autumn statement.
As part of a package of measures, George Osborne will legislate to break the traditional inflation link, which earlier this year saw benefits increased by 5.2 per cent.
The Chancellor argued this was not 'fair' at a time when most people's salaries are rising much more slowly.
Increases in most working-age benefits – including Job Seekers' Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance and Income Support, as well as elements of Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit – will be capped at one per cent over the coming years, although benefits for disabled people and carers will continue to rise in line with inflation.
The Liberal Democrats had claimed success in securing a number of concessions, including preventing a freeze on benefit rates, but Mr Horwood remained concerned.
He said: "I think it's quite unacceptable to be hitting the most vulnerable people in the country in this time of austerity."
But it was not simply a case of rebelling as this could impact on securing compromises.
He said: "Our negotiating position within the Coalition becomes weaker if we simply vote against it anyway."
"We are going to need to talk about how we respond to this idea."
Earlier, in a BBC radio interview, Mr Horwood said: "I'm not happy about the welfare cuts at all.
"I suppose the consolation we can take from this is that we stopped some of the wilder Conservative ideas about having no increase in benefits at all, about under 25s losing housing benefits, about people being penalised if they're on benefits and have more than two kids and so on and all that has been stopped.
"But I must admit, the remaining real-terms cut in benefits is a very painful thing to swallow and it's a difficult thing for us to swallow politically, but much more difficult for people to cope with who are actually struggling to live on a very small amount of money each week."