GORDON Brown has said the UK’s benefit system is failing to support those living in poverty – in an indirect challenge to Keir Starmer who has said he will maintain punishing Tory welfare policies.
Speaking at an event in Edinburgh earlier this month, the former prime minister said the Government could improve people’s lives by making the social security net more generous, arguing current policies made people live in humiliating poverty.
He said people "cannot live on the benefits that [they] receive" at the moment.
Recently it was good to hear @GordonBrown critique #UniversalCredit at #LeadScotland2023 inc. opposing:
▶️the Bedroom Tax
▶️the Benefit Cap
(both mitigated by @scotgov)
▶️the 2 child limit
▶️the 5 week wait
(long opposed by @theSNP).
Hope he can push @Keir_Starmer to change tack. pic.twitter.com/nqfFL4YBI8
— Ben Macpherson MSP (@BenMacpherson) September 23, 2023
Asked how the Government could “fast-track” a change to combat the cost-of-living crisis, Brown responded: “Change the benefit system. I mean, Universal Credit is, in my view, discredited as a benefit.”
It has been read as a challenge to the current Labour leader who has committed to maintaining policies like the two-child cap on benefits.
Brown went on: “Half of the people on Universal Credit are not actually getting the benefits that officially they are entitled to, because they’re subject to deductions, because if you go on Universal Credit, you’ve got to lend money for the first five weeks and then half the people, some people, have got 30% of their benefits deducted.
“So you’ve got declining benefits and you’ve also got deductions from benefits. And of course, you’ve got things like the two-child rule, you’ve got the benefits cap, you’ve got the housing benefit limit, you’ve got the bedroom tax.
“All these things have been introduced recently. So the truth is that you cannot live on the benefits that you receive at the moment and they used to maybe last one week out of two weeks, they now last only for the first two or three days and then people are finding it very difficult to survive.
“I think there is a responsibility on all of us to review the Universal Credit system and to see if we can make it better. But equally at the same time, we’ve got a winter crisis ahead of us and that’s why I’m appealing to people now.
“People are concerned about the divisions in our society and, yes, people are so embarrassed by their poverty that they try and hide it but can’t in the end hide it from children who are going to school without proper clothes, without proper hygiene. We have the responsibility to do something about it.”
'Labour must commit to bold reforms'
Ben Macpherson, a former social security minister in the Scottish Government, said Brown was right to argue for changes to the benefits system and called on Labour to commit to “bold reforms”.
He said: "The UK Government’s Universal Credit benefit system is not fit for purpose - it is uncaring and wrongheaded, and anyone who speaks to those struggling in our communities understands that.
“Now, at a time when people are really suffering in a cost of living crisis, the Labour leadership have shockingly shown that they won’t do anything differently from the Tories to create a fairer UK welfare system.
“As the SNP has long argued, Keir Starmer should do the right thing and commit to boldly reforming the UK benefits systems by scrapping the two child cap, the benefit cap and the bedroom tax, as well as increasing the payments, as Gordon Brown has rightly argued.
“If Labour leaders cannot commit to these bold reforms, it will be clear that that’d rather align themselves with the Tory status quo than help those struggling in our society.
“In stark contrast, the SNP will always push for changes at Westminster and is taking action where we can to help those that need it most - with the Scottish Government spending over £700 million over the past 5 years mitigating some of the worst aspects of the UK welfare system, increasing twelve Scottish benefits by the rate of inflation, creating the Scottish Child Payment, and increasing the Scottish Child Payment by 150% since 2022 to £25 per eligible child per week.
“If the Scottish Government had more powers over social security, and more financial powers, we could get rid of damaging policies entirely and build a better Scotland that is based on the principles of dignity, fairness and respect.”
Labour were criticised when it was revealed over the summer the party would not reverse draconian Tory welfare policies such as the two-child limit on benefits.
Starmer defended the party’s stance saying it was the type of “tough decision” Labour must make they want to win the next General Election.
He said: “We keep saying collectively as a party that we have to make tough decisions. And in the abstract, everyone says: ‘That’s right Keir.’
“But then we get into the tough decision – we’ve been in one of those for the last few days – and they say: ‘We don’t like that, can we just not make that one, I’m sure there is another tough decision somewhere else we can make.’ But we have to take the tough decisions.”