The British government plans to cut spending by 50 billion pounds by 2015 in a bid to slash the country's ballooning budget deficit and help bolster the flat-lining economy. The welfare reforms alone will save 4.5 billion pounds by 2014-15, according to government estimates.

"What this government is trying to do is to put things right," Treasury chief George Osborne told grocery store workers at a speech Tuesday. "We're trying to make the system fair on people like you, who get up, go to work, and expect your taxes to be spent wisely. And we're trying to restore hope in those communities who have been let down by generations of politicians by getting them back into work."

The most discussed welfare change is a reduction in subsidies for social housing tenants who have spare bedrooms. Opponents have dubbed the measure a "bedroom tax," but the government says the change will save money and free up housing for families because people with too many rooms will downsize.

Religious leaders, including the new archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, have called the cuts "unjust," and advocates for the disabled and anti-poverty campaigners held protest marches over the weekend. Activists argue that many people can't just move â¿¿ the country already has a dire shortage of public housing.

But it was the notion of Duncan Smith counting his coins at a supermarket that captured the public imagination as it illustrated how the poor really struggle to get by.

The 53 pounds a week figure came from David Bennett, a market trader who said he earned about 2,700 pounds last year. He was interviewed by the BBC before Duncan Smith, describing how his housing benefit was being cut even though his children stayed with him several days a week.

If Bennett were to buy a monthly bus pass to get to work it would cost him the equivalent of about 2.50 pounds a day. Setting aside one pound a day for clothing and emergencies would leave him about 27 pounds a week, for food.

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