Shadow welfare secretary proposes a benefits overhaul

25 Sep 18

Labour wants to create a benefits system based on “compassion and respect rather than distrust and stigma”, the shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood has told her party conference.

Margaret GreenwoodAnnouncing the launch of a consultation to overhaul the benefits system, Greenwood suggested a Labour government might scrap universal credit, which rolls six working-age benefits into one.

“The government must stop the roll out of universal credit and fix its many flaws before it causes any more hardship,” she told the conference in Liverpool yesterday. 

“Instead of providing stability and social security this government is tearing away the safety net that should be there for any of us when we need it.”

She added: “The next Labour government will scrap the Tories’ punitive sanctions regime in its entirety.”

At a fringe session at the conference today, shadow chancellor John McDonnell echoed her words saying benefit claimants have suffered from a hostile environment “for years”.

 “We talk about a hostile environment for Windrush victims, but there has been a hostile environment for those using the social security system for years.”

McDonnell claimed that social security was previously subject to “shirker rhetoric” in which claimants were demonised.

To tackle this, shadow secretary of state for work and pensions, suggested that the “narrative” around the social security system must change.

“We are calling on a system based on dignity and respect, not distrust and stigma,” she said.

She said that under the current system, people are failing to get the help they need, due in part to pressures on local government funding.

Greenwood said there has been a “squeeze on the provision on advice agencies because of the local authority funding squeeze.”

She added she wanted benefit claimants - “people affected by the system to be involved” – to be involved in the consultation process she announced yesterday.

Greenwood, the MP for Wirral West, also warned against the digitisation of the benefits system.

“The government’s insistence on moving to digital systems leaves many people unable to engage,” she said.

In June, the National Audit Office found that universal credit was not providing value for money.

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