There was little comfort for sick and disabled claimants from the Labour Party conference this week, as sections of shadow work and pensions secretary Liz Kendall’s speech would not have sounded out of place at last week’s Conservative conference
At both events, speakers decried the fact that two million people were currently receiving benefits as incapable of work and guaranteed that this would change.
Labour undertook to reform universal credit whilst the Conservatives promised to reform the work capability assessment.
Both promised a massive improvement in employment support.
And both asserted that work is good for more than just your financial wellbeing.
Most of all, both insisted that those who can work, must work.
Whilst many people could agree with most of those statements, the problem is that both parties have a long history of causing immense misery as they seek to distinguish those who can’t work from those who, in their view, can but won’t.
And even more suffering as they impose penalties on the second group.
In her speech, Kendall told Labour delegates:
“Conference, Britain isn’t working.
Over two million people shut out of the workplace because of sickness or disability, want to work.
The over 50s, especially women struggling with poor physical health and caring responsibilities.
Young people with mental health problems lacking basic qualifications, on the back foot before they’ve even begun.
Under Labour, this will change.
Our top priority will be ensuring everyone who can work, does.
Because we believe the benefits of work go beyond a payslip.
And in the dignity and self-respect good work brings.
So we will tear down the barriers to success.
We’ll tackle the root causes of worklessness, recruiting thousands more mental health staff and overhauling skills.
So no-one is ever written off again, whatever their age.
We’ll transform employment support so it’s tailored to individual and local needs . . .
This is our contract with the British people: real opportunities, matched by the responsibility to take them up.”
Kendall also told conference:
“We will reform universal credit to protect people when they need it and to genuinely make work pay. We’ll champion equality for disabled people.”
Compare Kendall’s words with speeches from last week’s Conservative conference.
The prime minister said:
“. . .our benefits system declares that more than two million people of working age are incapable of actually doing any.
it’s a tragedy for those two million people being written off.
I refuse to accept this and that is why we are going to change the rules so that those who can work, do work.”
Meanwhile, chancellor Jeremy Hunt told delegates:
“That safety net is paid from tax. And that social contract depends on fairness to those in work alongside compassion to those who are not.
That means work must pay… and we’re making sure it does.”
And work and pensions secretary, Mel Stride, explained:
“Having a job isn’t just good for your finances – it’s good for your mental and physical wellbeing too.
And it pains me to think there are so many people being left on benefits who want to work and who could be thriving in work. It’s a waste of human potential . . .
So we are reforming our sickness and disability benefit assessments for the first time in over a decade, to take account of the modern workplace.
That is going hand-in-hand with a revolution in the employment support we’re providing for people with health problems and disabilities.”
So, the message, it seems is much the same. Perhaps the difference, if Labour gets in, will be in the delivery.