Jeremy Corbyn U-turns on 'very clear' plan to lift benefits freeze two hours after making it
Jeremy Corbyn has admitted that a Labour government would not lift the freeze on working-age benefits – just over an hour after he insisted they would.
Speaking at the launch of the Labour manifesto, Mr Corbyn told ITV's Robert Peston that "clearly we’re not going to freeze benefits".
His comments came as a shock as there was no mention of the move – which would cost several billion pounds – in either the manifesto or the detailed costings which accompanied it.
But within two hours, the Labour leader said he was not committing to scrapping the real-terms cut after all.
“We have not made a commitment on that,” he said when asked about the policy.
"The commitment I make is that I do understand the perverse effects of the cap, and we will be dealing with that in the context of more affordable secure housing and high wages through the living wage.”
He said instead that other welfare spending commitments, including £2bn earmarked to mitigate the impact of some cuts to Universal Credit, would ease the impact of the benefits freeze.
“What I’ve said on the welfare cuts and cap issue is this: that we’ve set aside £2bn to deal with the worst effects of the benefit cap, which will help a lot,” he told the BBC.
“The £2bn I’ve set aside is that we deal with the worst effects of the way the cap operates, and so we’ll make sure that people do not end up on unreasonable and unfair sanctions as they do at the present time and frankly some commit suicide as a result of it.”
Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey had already hinted at the U-turn when she said it was not one of the “clear” spending commitments made by today’s manifesto.
“It doesn’t refer specifically to the benefit freeze itself but we are looking at that,” she told Radio 4’s World at One.
Labour’s costings set aside £4bn in total for a range of welfare pledges – including increasing Employment Support Allowance, scrapping the so-called “bedroom tax”, restoring housing benefit for 18 to 21-year-olds, extending PIP, and £2bn for mitigating looming cuts to universal credit – but made no mention of the benefits freeze.
Analysis by the Resolution Foundation in March found that higher inflation projections meant the benefits freeze would save £1bn per year more than expected by 2020/21, taking the total annual savings from the policy to more than £4bn, compared to the budget in 2016.
David Gauke, the Conservative Chief Secretary to the Treasury, branded Labour’s manifesto plans a “shambles”.
“Today confirms what we already knew: Jeremy Corbyn’s nonsensical ideas simply don’t add up,” he said.
“And every single working family in this country would pay for Corbyn’s chaos with higher taxes.
“It’s clear that proposal after proposal in this manifesto will mean more borrowing and debt: from promises on benefits, to promises on prison guards, to promises on nationalising the water network.
“It is simply not worth taking the risk of this shambles being in charge of our economy and our Brexit negotiations in three weeks’ time.”