Labour has vowed to make it easier for people with ill health to access benefits.
The party's shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth said it would make “better use” of existing resources as the party pledged to end repeat work capability assessments for those who are disabled or ill.
However, he insisted Labour was not going soft and that “conditionality” would continue to be part of the benefits and social welfare system under a Labour Government.
The Labour frontbencher pledged to still ensure only those entitled to benefits would receive them Gareth Fuller
In a speech at the Centre for Social Justice, the think tank founded by former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the Labour frontbencher said that many people with ill health simply do not want to risk having to go through the whole benefits application and assessment process again if things go wrong.
“Let’s take away that fear and distrust which prevent so many from engaging with employment support and attempting a move into work,” he said.
“A Labour government would guarantee that people in this position who do move into employment with the help of employment support will be able to return to the benefits they were on without the need for another lengthy assessment process.”
Ashworth said that anyone who cannot work deserves “security with inclusion not fear or threats”, as he stressed that conditions would still be attached to the benefits system under Labour.
He denied any suggestion that his proposal would simply allow those who dislike a certain job to easily move back on to benefits, as he said it was about “de-risking” the return to work for those who are ill or disabled.
“This is about a particular group of people who are out of work for reasons of ill-health or disability, who have been through a quite stressful, arduous process – the work capability assessment.
And once they have been through that process, they are worried about going through it again,” he told reporters.
“We want to de-risk the journey into work for them.”
Ashworth said Labour’s offering would create “genuine tailored help” for those out of work, hitting out at the “bewildering spaghetti junction of a fragmented system of different nationally imposed schemes with duplication and confusion”.
“Ministers sit in Whitehall imposing different programme after programme on local areas – regardless of the local economic needs of a community,” he said.
“We’ll shift resources to local communities, not just for people who are temporarily or long-term unemployed but also for people with more complex barriers as well.”
He did not give a timeframe for reform of Universal Credit if Labour enters office, a pledge that Sir Keir Starmer has repeatedly made.
Jon Ashworth failed to set out a timetable for Universal Credit reform Gareth Fuller
ANALYSIS: Labour has fired the election starting gun... and he's desperate to leave Corbynism in 2019, says Olivia Utley
If there was any doubt in SW1 that election season has already begun, Jonathan Ashworth’s speech to the Centre for Social Justice on Tuesday will have put it to rest.
In a speech laying out Labour’s plan for a reformed welfare system, the shadow work and pensions secretary seized every opportunity to prove that he and his party mean business.
His policy proposals had none of the misty-eyed idealism of the Corbyn era: in fact if anything, they were a little unambitious in scope.
Starmer’s leadership pledge to ditch Universal Credit, for example, has fallen by the wayside: Ashworth, it seems, wishes only to tinker around the edges of the Conservatives’ flagship welfare policy. Meanwhile his plan to reform job centres and get over 50s back into was rooted in the kind of dry pragmatism not often seen from a party in opposition. Instead of ripping up Tory initiatives and starting again from scratch, he would simply tweak the way the process works in order to give more “tailored support” to job seekers.
His language, however, was nothing if not ambitious. On every front, he seemed determined to show that Labour under Starmer is capable of taking the centre ground. On strikes, he steered clear of throwing his weight behind the unions, criticising instead the “workability” of the Conservatives’ anti-strike legislation. When asked whether benefits would be withdrawn from those abusing the system, he was at pains to make clear that there would be “responsibilities” attached to a Labour social security system. And in a move that will alarm beleaguered Tory strategists trying to preserve the Conservatives’ reputation for economic competency, he repeated time and again the mantra that Labour would be “responsible”, not profligate, with public finances.
It’s impossible to say whether this dramatic change in tone from the Corbyn era will be enough to win Labour an outright majority in 2024/25. The party has a lot of votes to win, and the policy detail isn’t yet there: on NHS waiting lists, childcare reform and what to do about the endless strikes, Ashworth had no clear answers. But one thing is for sure: Labour means business.