'Leading the debate on employment, poverty and social security'
It's a huge honour to be asked by Ed Miliband to head up Labour's shadow work and pensions team. It's a big responsibility with some tough challenges but also I think some real opportunities to lead the debate on employment, poverty and social security and campaign for a positive agenda rooted in Labour's values of work, responsibility and decency.
Families facing a cost of living crisis want to know we have a social security system that is fair and sustainable, with costs kept under control but there for them when they need it.
The Tories seek to use every opportunity to divide this country and set one group of people against another. But their approach is failing – with the result that people are left out of work for year after year and costs to the country continue to rise. The Work Programme isn't working, the roll-out of Universal Credit is in disarray, the Youth Contract has been a flop and there is mounting anger at the degrading and disgraceful treatment of disabled people by ATOS.
The complacent Tories are congratulating themselves about a long-delayed recovery. But almost a million young people are out of work. For those in work, increasing numbers of them aren't being paid a living wage, are stuck on zero hours contracts or working part time when they want to work full time, and are being hit by soaring rents because levels of house building are so low - all of which drive up the benefits bill.
Labour will control the costs of social security by getting more people into work, rewarding work and tackling low pay, investing in the future, and recognising contribution. We'll strive to make the right to work a reality for people with disabilities, working with them to design services and benefits that enable them to play their part.
A One Nation social security system will be one with responsibility at its heart - people receiving benefits who can work have a responsibility to look for work, prepare for work and take jobs that are available to them, but government has a responsibility to treat benefit recipients fairly and decently, help and support them and work with employers to ensure there are real jobs opportunities available.
Our compulsory jobs guarantees for young people and the long term unemployed, funded by repeating the tax on bank bonuses and limiting pensions tax relief for those on more than £150,000, would ensure there is work for under 25s out of work for more than a year and adults out of work for more than two years. These would be proper paid jobs - and people would be expected to take them or face losing benefits.
And unlike the Tories, we'll put an effective cap on structural social security spending by getting tough on the causes of unemployment and rising benefit bills: low pay, lack of economic opportunity, shortage of affordable housing.
We would repeal cruel and counterproductive measures like David Cameron's Bedroom Tax. I see constituents week in and week out with heart breaking stories about how this policy is hitting them and their families. Around the country hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people, many of them disabled, are being penalised by this perverse policy which could end up costing more than it saves because of the distress and disruption it's causing.
And we'll keep up the campaign for the living wage, and for the economic reforms we need to ensure that prosperity is fairly shared and welfare is not a substitute for good employment and decent jobs.