Two of the front-runners to become Labour’s new leader have again dodged attempts to clarify whether they back efforts to whip up hostility towards disabled benefit claimants.
Disability News Service has been attempting for the last 10 days – through repeated phone calls and emails – to secure answers from Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall on whether they back further cuts to disability benefits.
Concerns were first raised when Burnham (pictured), currently the shadow health secretary, told an audience at accountancy giants Ernst and Young: “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”, and that he should 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”.
And she added: “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 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 said that the public does not trust Labour on welfare, and called for what the Guardian termed a “fundamental rethink” on social security reform.
By tonight (Thursday), neither Kendall nor Burnham had responded to requests for clarity on their positions on cuts to disability benefits and anti-claimant rhetoric, for the second week running.