Labour pledges to change the debate on welfare

28 Sep 15

Shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith has pledged to change the debate on social security to reflect that what he called a national asset that represents the “collective pooling of risk” across Britain.

In his speech to the Labour party conference today, Smith said that for too long the Conservatives had set the terms of engagement around welfare spending, which had undermined the basic case of support and security for individuals through the collective pooling of risk.

“The risk of job loss or sickness, bereavement or retirement … faces us all at some point,” said Smith, who was appointed in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet earlier this month.

“We can’t let their divisive rhetoric of shirkers and workers stop us making the case for fair-minded reform of the system, with controls on costs, but compassion for all who need it.”

The system of welfare support should be viewed as similar to the NHS, as a national asset that is there for everybody who needs it, Smith said.

Instead it has come to be seen as a broken system, resented by some, and failing too many.

“Well it’s our job to fix it … and remake the case for an efficient and compassionate welfare state,” he said. “That’s the job I am setting myself.”

He reiterated comments made by shadow chancellor John McDonnell that a future Labour government would introduce the full Living Wage, not what he called the “counterfeit version” on offer from Chancellor George Osborne.

“You don’t even get Osborne’s bogus Living Wage if you’re under 25,” Smith stated.

“How is it right to ask a 24-year-old – perhaps with a family at home – to work the same job alongside a 25-year-old on better money? And how does it help older workers to get a job or stay in work if employers know it’s cheaper to take on younger staff?

“It’s wrong, and Labour will continue to campaign for a proper Living Wage for all.”

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