General election 2017: Labour will 'in effect' end benefit freeze

Labour will “in effect” end the freeze on benefits through a package of reforms in its “first Budget”, the shadow chancellor has said.

John McDonnell said his proposals would make the freeze “irrelevant”, but did not say whether he would scrap it.

Later though, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told Sky News the freeze was “unfair” and “would be ended”.

The Liberal Democrats have also said they would end the benefits freeze and reverse welfare cuts.

According to their manifesto, the Conservatives have “no plans for further radical welfare reform” and would continue the roll-out of Universal Credit – a single monthly payment to replace many other benefits.

The freeze on working-age benefits, which came into force in 2016, sees welfare payments capped at their current rate until 2019.

Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, Mr McDonnell said the proposals the party was putting forward “would ensure that in effect we would be addressing this issue of how we reverse the benefit freeze itself”.

“I want to do it as part of an overall reform package and not just pick off one by one.”

He said: “We’re putting £30bn in over the lifetime of a Parliament into welfare, we’re reforming the whole process… and the implication of that will be… the impact of these proposals will make the freeze irrelevant because we’ll reform the whole process.”

Labour’s manifesto includes plans to scrap the bedroom tax, restore housing benefit for those under 21 and increase Personal Independence Payments for the disabled.

When pushed about what level of economic growth would be needed for Labour to deliver its plans, Mr McDonnell insisted the party’s proposals were “completely cost neutral… because for everything you put in, you get the money back”.

Mr McDonnell rejected Resolution Foundation findings that 78% of Conservative cuts would not be reversed under Labour proposals.

He said his strength of feeling on this issue was such that he would deliver the reforms in the first Budget.

‘Fair’ system

Mr Corbyn was also pressed on whether enough money had been allocated in the manifesto to fully reverse all the welfare cuts Labour has criticised.

He said some money had been set aside “as a start” and “obviously we would review it as time goes on”.

Asked about immigration, Mr Corbyn said a Labour government would deliver a “fair” system, but would not be drawn on whether he personally wanted to see numbers rise or fall.

He said net migration would “probably be lower” in the future, but added: “I want us to have a society that works and I cannot get into a numbers game because I don’t think it works.”

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