Jeremy Corbyn faced accusations of a “chaotic” u-turn over benefit payments this afternoon, after rowing back on plans to lift a freeze on welfare in the space of an hour.
The Labour leader today vowed to axe the Tory freeze on benefits as he took questions from journalists after unveiling his party’s manifesto.
Yet within an hour Corbyn went back on the promise – which did not feature in the manifesto – prompting accusations of a u-turn.
The Conservatives said the shift in position showed the “nonsensical Labour manifesto is falling apart within an hour.”
Update: At 4.20pm a Labour spokesperson said:
“As our manifesto and costings documents explain, Labour is committed to injecting £10 billion 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.”
Labour’s manifesto vowed to scrap a range of measures – including the Bedroom Tax, the cut to Housing Benefit for under-21s and reduction in Bereavement Support Payment – but made no mention of the benefit freeze.
ITV’s Political Editor Robert Peston challenged Corbyn on why there was no pledge to scrap policy.
Corbyn replied: “Increasing benefits is important, and clearly we’re not going to freeze benefits – that is very clear.
“We’re also looking at the perverse affect of the benefits cap on people and their housing accommodation – particularly in London and the centre of our big cities.
“You will be hearing more about that in the very near future.”
Minutes later Corbyn backtracked on the pledge, and told reporters: “We’ve not made any commitment on that”
The freeze means most welfare payments are now capped at their April 2016 level for three years, instead of rising with wages and is estimated to affect 11 million families across the UK.
Scrapping the freeze would add billions to Labour’s spending plans, and was not mentioned in its “Funding Britain’s Future” document published alongside the manifesto.
There were also no costings on renationalising the railways, Royal Mail, the electricity board and UK water companies.
Conservative Chief Secretary to the Treasury David Gauke said: “Today confirms what we already knew: Jeremy Corbyn’s nonsensical ideas simply don’t add up. 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.
A Conservative source added: “This may be Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto – but the costings behind it are pure Diane Abbott.”