Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Margaret Greenwood MP, has vowed that the next Labour Government “will scrap the Tories’ punitive sanctions regime in its entirety”.
Speaking at the Party’s annual conference in Liverpool, Margaret Greenwood said the “heartless sanctions regime” has led to increased ill health and destitution for many of the UK’s poorest people.
She said that punishing vulnerable people “just because they missed the bus on the way to the Jobcentre or even because they attended a job interview” can have a devastating impact on benefit claimants and their families.
“The average sanction is the loss of one month’s money … and a sanction can be as long as three years”, she said.
“Any one of us could find ourselves on the receiving end of their callous regime. Because of course any one of us could be made redundant, become ill, experience relationship breakdown or find ourselves caring for a loved one.
“Instead of providing stability and social security this Government is tearing away the safety net that should be there for any of us when we need it.
“Under the Tories our social security system has lost sight of its purpose. They say that driving people into work will address poverty and improve the economy, regardless of the quality or suitability of those jobs.
“But, Conference, the Tories have failed to deliver. Nearly four million people are in insecure work. And millions of working families are living in poverty.
“We know that the majority of people want to work. But we know too that the sanctions regime is failing.
“That is why the next Labour government will scrap the Tories’ punitive sanctions regime in its entirety.
“We will rebuild our social security system from the principles on which it was founded. Supporting people rather than policing them and alleviating poverty rather than exacerbating it.
“Instead of punishing people, we will empower them.”
“And we will use the resources currently being squandered on sanctions to provide high quality career and employment services in communities across the country. We will make sure that people can access the skills, training and opportunities they need to thrive.”
Greenwood also condemned the Government’s handling of Universal Credit, which has faced strong criticism from charities and across the political spectrum.
Stopping short of promising to scrap the scheme outright, Margaret Greenwood called on the Government to “stop the roll out of Universal Credit and fix its many flaws before it causes any more hardship”.
However, she has not taken the option of scrapping Universal Credit off the table completely.
Speaking to the Daily Mirror ahead of her speech, she said Labour was “looking into” whether the Tories’ flagship welfare reform should be scrapped. “We’re not ruling anything out”, she told the newspaper.
Asked if Labour are considering options to scrap Universal Credit outright, she said: “We’re not ruling anything out, because we think it’s important to be on top of all of the detail of it before making a decision.”
She said at the “heart” of the welfare state “should be respect for all, whatever a person’s circumstances and whatever challenges they may face”.
“We will end the hostile environment that the Tories have created by completely overhauling our social security system. We will rebuild it and restore dignity at its heart.”
Correction: The Labour Party Conference was held in Liverpool and not Manchester. We apologise for any confusion this may have caused.