Labour’s Burnham and Kendall dodge questions on benefits rhetoric

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The two front-runners to become Labour’s new leader have both evaded repeated attempts to clarify their position on social security cuts and support for disabled people.

Both Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall have recently made comments that suggest they back right-wing attempts to whip up hostility towards benefit claimants.

But this week, despite several messages left with members of their teams, neither of them have responded to questions from Disability News Service.

Concerns were first raised when Burnham (pictured), currently the shadow health secretary, told an audience at accountancy giants Ernst and Young this week: “It worries me that, in some people’s eyes, Labour has become associated with giving people who don’t want to help themselves an easy ride.”

He also spoke of his hope that Labour would again become “the party of work”.

But leadership rival Yvette Cooper warned that Burnham’s comments risked falling into “a Tory trap of using language that stigmatises those who are not working”.

She added: “I don’t think that is about Labour values.”

Cooper told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show: “I think the important thing is to talk about responsibility, the responsibility to work, the responsibility to contribute, but not to stigmatise those who are unable to work perhaps because they are too sick or too disabled to do so.

“Let’s have a positive system, with fair rules, strong rules and firm rules, but also one that is responsible in the language that we use as well.”

Liz Kendall, the shadow care services minister, and another leadership contender, also alarmed many disabled campaigners when she told the Guardian that she supported a welfare cap on the total amount of benefits received, arguing that “voters in my constituency do not feel people who are not working should get more than those in work”.

She also said that the public does not trust Labour on welfare, and she called for what the Guardian termed a “fundamental rethink”.

Disability News Service contacted the offices of both Burnham and Kendall on Tuesday (2 June), but neither team had responded by the end of today (Thursday).

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