Andy Burnham rejects Osborne's call for Labour support on £12bn welfare cuts

The Labour leadership frontrunner Andy Burnham has launched a blistering attack on George Osborne’s “disgraceful” approach to cutting £12bn from the welfare budget, warning that he would furiously oppose any attempt to reduce benefits for disabled people or tax credits for those on low incomes.

He claimed Osborne was “frightening people” by failing to set out which benefits he would slash, after the chancellor and Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, confirmed they would press ahead with £12bn of cuts. 

In a speech on Monday, David Cameron will give support to Osborne’s effort
to cuts £12bn from benefits, by pledging to end the “welfare merry
go-round”. He will promise a “higher wage, lower tax, lower welfare society” and
attack the “tolerance of failure and complacency that has infected our
national life”.

On Saturday the leftwing Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn was the only Labour leadership candidate to attend a rally of tens of thousands of people against austerity in Parliament Square.

So far in the contest the frontrunners have not been very specific about which of Osborne’s potential welfare cuts they would oppose. Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, has backed “strong rules on contribution, expecting people to work if they can” but made clear she would “never slag off people on benefits because they can’t work as ‘workshy’ or ‘scroungers’”.

Cooper has also defended the principle of tax credits for working-age people on low income, while Liz Kendall, the shadow care minister, has said she wants to wait and see the details of the proposed Conservative cuts before passing judgement.

Previously, Burnham has appeared to adopt a harsher tone on welfare, saying the party had left “an impression on the doorstep, a feeling, some people say, that Labour want to be soft on people who want something for nothing”.

Speaking on Sky News on Sunday, the shadow health secretary appeared to sharpen his rhetoric about the way the Conservatives plan to carry out the cuts. He said he was not against all reductions in the benefits bill to help cut the deficit but he would not “go along with brutal plans that would hurt many vulnerable people”.

Burnham said his “Labour way forward” would include tax incentives for companies that pay the living wage and tackling the dysfunctional housing market that leads so much housing benefit being paid to private landlords.

“If this chancellor thinks it is acceptable to take benefits off disabled people who can’t replace that income, or if he is coming after the tax credits of people on low incomes in work, then he is going to have a fight on his hands,” Burnham told the Murnaghan programme.

“It is questionable whether he has a mandate for cuts on this scale because he didn’t spell out before the election where these cuts were going to fall. That is wrong.”

During the election campaign, Osborne and David Cameron repeatedly refused to outline exactly how they would reach the £12bn figure, apart from saying they would reduce the benefit cap, freeze most working-age benefits for two years and take away housing benefit for under-21s.

Cameron has ruled out touching benefits for elderly people and child benefit, meaning the bulk of the savings will have to come from other working-age welfare payments. The most likely cuts are restrictions on child tax credits and housing benefit.

There have been reports of disquiet among some of Osborne’s Tory colleagues about the scale of the proposed reductions. Duncan Smith is said to have been concerned to make sure the changes are designed to encourage people into work and are not just “salami slicing” the budget.

Having thrashed out a deal, the two cabinet ministers issued a challenge to Labour, saying: “Even after the comprehensive rejection of their position by the British people in last month’s general election, Labour seems determined to go on as before. But even now, we appeal to their leadership candidates to engage constructively with us and to support the further savings we must make to make welfare fairer and more affordable, while protecting pensioners and the vulnerable.”

This week Burnham will set out plans to back more “rent-to-own” housing and pledge to appoint a cabinet-rank housing minister. “For about a decade or more we’ve looked like a party that didn’t want to help people to get on in life,” starting with the scrapping of the 10p rate of tax, he said. This impression was “pretty toxic for any political party,” Burnham said.

Powered by article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for The Guardian on Sunday 21st June 2015 19.11 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010