02/01/2012 21:52 GMT | Updated 03/01/2012 13:15 GMT

Liam Byrne Signals Step-Change In Labour's Attitude To Welfare

Labour have marked a step-change in their attitude to welfare, with shadow cabinet minister Liam Byrne saying it is time for his party to become "radical reformers" again.

In an article for the Guardian to mark the 70th anniversary of the Beveridge report, the document that became the basis for the founding of the welfare state, Byrne says Beveridge considered "idleness" " every bit as insidious as disease or squalor".

The shadow work and pensions secretary says it is time for his party to think again about the welfare state, adding "one more heave behind our old agenda won't do".

Byrne says while Labour do not support certain government benefit cuts such as to cancer patients, the welfare state needs to change to be more like the system imagined by Beveridge. And Byrne argues that the £20bn bill for housing benefit is simply "too high."

"He [Beveridge] would have worried about the ways that his system had skewed social behaviour because he intended benefits to help people who had their earning power interrupted because of illness, industrial injury or the capriciousness of the trade cycle. He never foresaw unearned support as desirable", the MP writes.

Instead Byrne calls for a return to the "something for something" culture, a move outlined by Labour leader Ed Miliband in a speech last year.

His words are likely to anger the left-wing of the party, who are concerned about painting benefit claimants as "scroungers".

Byrne is reportedly giving a speech on the issue later this month.

Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith said Labour had admitted that welfare was not working "at last'.

"So far Labour have opposed our plans on Housing Benefit, Employment Support Allowance and the benefit cap with no realistic or affordable alternative proposal.

"The fact is that during years of economic growth, the Labour Party oversaw a welfare system that managed to trap more people onto a life of benefit dependency. Labour should now show some leadership by finally supporting our plans to overhaul this broken welfare system. The public will look on with interest to see if Labour have finally woken up to the need for radical change or whether this is nothing more than an attempt at grabbing good headlines."