Labour policy on benefits freeze in chaos after day of confusion

Posted On: 
16th May 2017

Labour's policy on the Government's benefits freeze was mired in confusion after Jeremy Corbyn and other senior figures were unable to say whether the party wants to scrap it.

Jeremy Corbyn addresses a rally in Huddersfield after launching Labour's manifesto
Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

In a major surprise, the Labour election manifesto published today made no mention of the policy, despite the party being opposed to the freeze.

Answering questions from the media afterwards, Mr Corbyn appeared to suggest that he would end the freeze if he becomes Prime Minister.

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The Labour leader said: "Increasing benefits is important and clearly we’re not going to freeze benefits. That is very clear."

But within two hours Mr Corbyn had rowed back from that position, saying: "We have not made a commitment on that. 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."

Later in the afternoon, the position changed again when a statement in the name of a Labour spokesman said the freeze would be lifted.

He said: "As our manifesto and costings documents explain, Labour is committed to injecting £10bn over five years into the benefits system to review and redesign it for the economy we want to create and make it more effective at reducing poverty and supporting people in work.

"As Jeremy Corbyn made clear today, that will mean an end to the freeze. The form that restructuring will take will be subject to review."

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry then added to the confusion by telling the BBC that the freeze would not be lifted entirely.

She said: "As Jeremy explained earlier, we’ve set aside £10bn in the manifesto over the next five years to offset the impact of the proposed freeze,” she said.  

“Now, I don’t think we can offset it entirely and we shouldn’t be promising things that we can’t afford.”

Asked why Mr Corbyn appeared to say that the cap would be scrapped, she said: “He’d just made a speech, there were lots of questions.

“But let’s get the nuance absolutely right: we will look at the worst affected and those most in need; we will increase the living wage which will mean that those on in-work benefits will not suffer in the same way as they were; we will change the way assessments work for disability benefits; we will do something about the benefit cap – particularly in areas of high housing.”

Labour’s manifesto sets out a total of £4bn to increase spending on welfare, including “£2bn of additional funding for Universal Credit for review of cuts and how best to reverse them”.

Universal Credit is itself the subject of billions of pounds of cuts, but Labour suggested the £2bn per year  – which would not be enough to reverse the freeze – could be directed to working-age benefits more widely.