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Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary criticised over ‘divisive’ language in describing vision for ‘two-tier’ benefits system

LABOUR’s shadow work and pensions secretary raised concerns over a “two-tier” benefits system today after suggesting that those who make “greater contributions” to the welfare system should receive more.

The language used by Jonathan Reynolds, who was given the job by new Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer two months ago, has been described as “divisive” and “toxic.”

In an interview with Politics Home, he criticised the Tory government’s universal credit (UC) scheme, but added that he wants a “simpler” system in which “if you put more in, you get more out.”

He insisted that his vision for the welfare system would also “give dignity and respect to people with disabilities who won’t be able to participate in the labour market in the same way.”

But the Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) campaign group condemned Mr Reynolds’s “toxic” language.

“It’s shameful that Reynolds is seeking to set different parts of society against one another by making divisive statements like this,” the group told the Morning Star.

“We are used to not seeing any better from the Tories, and now it seems we will need to have equally low expectations of the Labour Party.”

People’s Assembly Against Austerity spokesman John Rees told the Star that Mr Reynolds’s rhetoric “revives the deeply Victorian distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor.

“We don’t need a two-tier discriminatory benefits system, we need a universal provision which protects people’s livelihoods when they are in need,” he added.

Labour MP Richard Burgon said that “with the scale of the economic crisis to come, never has it been more important to make the case for universalism in our social security system.”

Labour has called for the £20-a-week increase in UC to continue after the coronavirus crisis is over.

The party is also calling for the increase to be applied to legacy benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance.

Mr Reynolds also said that he would like to see the means-tested element of UC — whereby those with between £6,000 and £16,000 in savings have their benefits tapered, while those above the higher threshold are not eligible at all — ended during the Covid-19 emergency.

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