Britain's Labour says welfare should be linked to contributions

LONDON Sun Apr 7, 2013 4:26pm BST

The deputy leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, Harriet Harman, delivers her speech on the last day of the party's conference in Manchester, northern England October 4, 2012. REUTERS/Andrew Winning

The deputy leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, Harriet Harman, delivers her speech on the last day of the party's conference in Manchester, northern England October 4, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Andrew Winning

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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's opposition Labour Party is set to overhaul its welfare policies to link state help to individual contributions, countering charges by the governing Conservatives that it is soft on benefit scroungers.

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman said people in work should go to the top of social housing waiting lists and the unemployed should take up job offers or lose benefits after two years.

Labour's proposals, which mark a break from the principle that certain social benefits are universal, came days after the government started overhauling a welfare system that costs 200 billion pounds ($300 billion) a year.

A YouGov poll for The Sun on Sunday showed 67 percent of voters think the welfare system does not work and needs urgent reform. The issue is set to play a major part in the next election due in 2015.

Labour's welfare policies would be fairer and founded on ensuring a supply of well-paying jobs for all, providing stronger incentives to seek employment, Harman said.

"Work should pay. Secondly, there should be an obligation to take work," she said. "There should be support through a contributory principle, for people putting in to the system as well as taking out."

Under welfare caps and cuts coming into effect this month, households will not be able to claim more than 26,000 pounds each year in welfare. This comes as the government tries to eliminate its underlying budget deficit by the 2016-17 fiscal year, from 6.8 percent of gross domestic product in the current financial year.

Labour's move came after Chancellor George Osborne on Thursday upped the temperature of the debate on welfare by saying a man jailed for life for killing six of his children in a fire was the "vile product" of the benefits system.

In a letter to The Sun, Prime Minister David Cameron said the welfare system had "lost its way" and had become a "lifestyle choice for some".

"We are putting fairness back at the heart of Britain. We are building a country for those who work hard and want to get on. And we are saying to each and every hardworking person in our country: we are on your side," Cameron wrote.

Labour led the Conservatives in a YouGov poll of voter intention in the Sunday Times, by 40 percent to 30 percent. ($1 = 0.6514 British pounds)

(Editing by Jason Webb)

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