POLITICS

Labour Changes Its Benefits Freeze Policy Four Times In Five Hours After Manifesto Launch

It was difficult to keep up.

16/05/2017 17:57 BST | Updated 16/05/2017 18:19 BST

 

Labour’s benefit payments policy is in “chaos” this afternoon after the party struggled to agree if it would scrap the freeze on welfare.

Party leader Jeremy Corbyn gave seemingly conflicting answers today when asked if Labour would reverse the Tories’ benefit freeze, introduced last year.

A Labour spokesperson tried to clear up matters by saying the freeze would be axed, only for Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry to say it woudn’t be “reversed entirely” if the party won the election.

A senior Tory source said the confusion showed the “chaos at the heart of Jeremy Corbyn’s plan for Government.”

The series of u-turns began this morning, when Corbyn was asked by ITV’s Robert Peston why there was no mention of scrapping the benefit freeze in the manifesto which had just been published.

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.”

Within the hour, Corbyn backtracked on the pledge, telling reporters: “We’ve not made any commitment on that.”

Despite Corbyn now being in line with the party’s manifesto, a spokesperson for Labour put out a statement three hours later contradicting the party leader.

The statement read: “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.”

However, when Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry appeared on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme an hour after the spokesperson’s statement, the position appeared to have changed again.

“I don’t think we can reverse it entirely and we shouldn’t be promising things we can’t afford,” she said.

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 11million 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.”