Margaret Greenwood speaking at Labour Party Conference today
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Margaret Greenwood, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said:
It gives me great pleasure to open the conference debate on social security and skills.
I would like to pay tribute to everybody who has contributed to our policy development through the National Policy Forum and through campaigning for social justice.
I would also like to thank my Work and Pensions colleagues – Shadow Minister for Disabled People Marsha de Cordova, Shadow Employment Minister Mike Amesbury and Shadow Pensions Minister Jack Dromey – for the vital work that they do in holding the Government to account and promoting a Labour alternative.
The welfare state, which was founded by the post-war Labour Government, has transformed lives – tackling poverty and homelessness and supporting people in their time of need.
It is an achievement of which we in the Labour movement are rightly proud.
At its heart should be respect for all, whatever a person’s circumstances and whatever challenges they may face. And there should be respect too for the public servants who deliver it.
Yet under the Tories we are seeing something quite different. Their treatment of disabled people has been shameful. The United Nations has found that their welfare reforms have led to “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights. At least 75,000 people have lost their mobility vehicles, leaving them at risk of being isolated in their own homes.
Thousands of disabled people have been forced to undergo stressful, poorly designed PIP and Work Capability Assessments. And the sanctioning of people who are ill or disabled has even been linked to deaths, including suicides.
No wonder disabled people are calling it a hostile environment.
Universal Credit is failing, driving people into debt, hunger and even destitution. Over four million children growing up in poverty. Over a million people forced to go to food banks. And thousands falling out of the system altogether because the processes involved in making a claim are just too complex.
This cannot go on.
The Government must stop the roll out of Universal Credit and fix its many flaws before it causes any more hardship.
At the centre of the Tories’ social security system is their heartless sanctions regime. A sanctions regime that claims to help people into work that lasts, but that rarely does so. That leads to increased ill health and, for some, destitution.
And which punishes someone just because they missed the bus on the way to the Jobcentre or even because they attended a job interview. The impact can be devastating.
The average sanction is the loss of one month’s money … and a sanction can be as long as three years.
This Government is leaving people feeling demoralised and undermined, instead of valued and supported. 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.
For the young people starting out in life. For parents and carers going back into the workplace. And for the experienced workers looking for a new direction in later life.
That’s the real way to deliver the workforce that will transform our economy. This has never been more important.
Artificial intelligence and automation are already bringing profound change to our working lives. New technology offers new opportunities, but it also presents challenges. We need a highly trained workforce and an environment in which people are able to update their skills throughout their lives.
Conference, we are ambitious for our country and for all of our people. That is why today I am promising a complete change of direction. 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.
The scale of our ambition means we cannot do it alone.
Over the coming months we will be inviting submissions from across the country. To develop proposals for a social security system that is based on compassion and respect rather than distrust and stigma.
Our vision of the future is one in which the talents of each and every person are developed in a way that enriches their lives and those of our communities. A future in which everyone who can work is able to play their part in transforming our economy. A future too in which social security is there to provide stability and support for any of us should we need it.
Together, we will create a social security system we can all be proud of.
So that, together, we can rebuild our economy and create a society for the many, not the few.