Starmer: Wealth redistribution ‘not enough’ to level up Britain

Sir Keir Starmer visits a window supply company in Bathgate, West Lothian, to campaign on Labour's plans to boost jobs and tackle the welfare bill
Sir Keir Starmer visits a window supply company in Bathgate, West Lothian, to campaign on Labour's plans to boost jobs and tackle the welfare bill - Jane Barlow/PA

State handouts offer people less “dignity” than earning a living through work, Sir Keir Starmer has said.

The Labour leader said that “working people” wanted “success more than state support” as he declared that if he were to be elected prime minister, he would put wealth creation “front and centre”.

Sir Keir also warned that “redistribution” alone was not enough to “level-up” Britain, saying that “redistribution seems to have also become our ‘one-word’ plan for vast swathes of Britain”.

Britain’s benefits bill has ballooned amid a sharp increase in worklessness since the pandemic, with analysis published last week revealing that surging sickness benefit claims will drive an increase in Britain’s welfare bill of more than £20 billion a year by 2030.

Sir Keir’s comments mark a toughening of his rhetoric about those who rely on the state welfare system. They will be seen as an overt pitch to socially conservative voters, but risk sparking a backlash within his own party.

Writing for The Telegraph, he said: “Serving the interests of working people means understanding they want success more than state support.

“Yes, this is about aspiration. I know our country is driven by it. Entrepreneurs. Parents working extra hours to give their children security. Young people striving for their first home.

“But it is also about dignity. The Labour mission was built on the pride of working people earning a decent living for themselves.

“We will never turn our backs on people who are struggling. But handouts from the state do not nurture the same sense of self-reliant dignity as a fair wage.”

Sir Keir outlined his harder stance on welfare ahead of the final full week of the election campaign, in which he will face two head-to-head broadcast debates against Rishi Sunak. The Labour leader will visit battleground seats in the Midlands, while Mr Sunak will travel to Scotland to launch the Scottish Tory manifesto.

Mr Sunak has made a crackdown on the welfare bill a core part of his manifesto offering, promising an overhaul of sick notes to get more people back into work and tougher sanctions for those who are able to seek work but choose not to.

By contrast, the Labour manifesto contains little in the way of concrete actions on benefits, though it does commit to a review of Universal Credit “so that it makes work pay and tackles poverty”.

It also promises to tackle the backlog of access to work claims and to reform or replace the work capability assessment that determines if people are fit to work, as well as come up with a “proper plan” to support disabled people into employment.

Sir Keir’s remarks about benefits claimants risk opening up divisions within Labour. Several senior Left-wing figures are already furious about Sir Keir’s decision to retain the two-child benefit cap.

The policy, introduced by George Osborne when he was chancellor, means low-income parents are not eligible for key benefits, including universal credit, for their third and any subsequent children born after April 2017.

Sir Keir said he was “proud” that Labour’s manifesto was a “plan for wealth creation”, adding: “Indeed, as far as I’m concerned, making people better off is the whole point of politics.”

He said that sustained economic growth was the “only remedy” for the “malaise” in Britain, adding: “I accept it’s unusual for a Labour leader to put wealth creation front and centre. I also understand why there is an emphasis on tax and spend this election. After 14 years of next to no growth, to doggedly pursue it is almost a new concept.”

He also insisted that he would keep taxes down, saying “make no mistake…We will not raise income tax, national insurance or VAT”.

Sir Keir said he did not want to raise taxes because “it isn’t fair for working people to lose more of their money in a cost of living crisis” or for the “failures of government to cost your pocket”.

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