Minister says she wants to leave language of ‘scroungers and shirkers’ in the past
Tue 5 Mar 2019 17.43 GMT
Last modified on Tue 5 Mar 2019 20.10 GMT
Amber Rudd has signalled she wants to move away from the Conservatives’ previous language of “scroungers and shirkers” when talking about people claiming benefits, saying she hoped to “leave all that in the past”.
While Rudd, who became work and pensions secretary in November, refused to apologise for the narrative used around benefits during the heyday of austerity, she stressed her aim of working more closely with disability charities.
The comments came in questions following a speech at the headquarters of the disability charity Scope in east London, in which Rudd said hundreds of thousands of pensioners will no longer have to undergo reviews to carry on receiving disability benefits.
She announced the overhaul of personal independence payments (Pip) for older people after years of complaints about the system, which requires many claimants to repeatedly prove their entitlement to benefits.
In a sometimes personal speech which referenced the many years her father was blind, Rudd acknowledged the disability benefits system remained imperfect, and some people feel they are “put on trial for seeking support”.
After the speech, she was asked about the language on benefits used in the era when George Osborne was trying to push through huge cuts as chancellor.
In 2012, a series of disability charities, including Scope, said that a government narrative focusing on alleged fraud and overclaiming to justify benefit cuts was exposing disabled people to increased abuse and taunts that they were “scroungers”.
Asked if she recognised the criticism, Rudd replied “This is seven years ago”, saying she now had strong relationships with Scope and other charities, calling them “critical friends”.
She added: “I’m concerned about the future, and about making sure disabled people have the independence they want, the access to the opportunities they want, and I hope that we can leave all that in the past.”
Rudd is taking a publicly softer line at the Department for Work and Pensions than her predecessor Esther McVey, who quit the government over Brexit.
Rudd has previously announced a series of changes to universal credit, the government’s much-criticised all-in-one working age benefit, and conceded last month that issues with it had in part caused a rise in food bank use.
In her latest speech, she said the government “intends to change the landscape for disabled people”, with a more forgiving benefits regime and help to get people into work.
The change in Pip rules for older claimants will mean about 270,000 pensioners who are in receipt of the payment will carry on getting them without having to be reassessed in future, unless they say their circumstances have changed.
In the speech, Rudd said several times there was “more we need to do” to improve disability benefits and make them more user-friendly.
But she said this did not mean she was saying the government was entirely at fault, responding to one question by saying: “I think it’s a mistake to say that before the Tories, before universal credit, it was perfect.”
Responding to the speech, Scope’s chief executive, Mark Hodgkinson, said he welcomed the language, but more should be done on Pip and the parallel system of work capability assessments.
Answering another question, Rudd also confirmed the benefits freeze would end after next year, as indicated by figures from the Office for Budget Responsibility.
“You will know there are no plans to extend it for next year – that is shown in the OBR projection, so that is the state of play at the moment,” she said.