UK Politics

Labour failed on welfare reform - Ed Miliband

Labour did not do "enough" when it was in power to reform the welfare system, party leader Ed Miliband has said.

He told the BBC there was still a "minority" of able-bodied adults not in work, which "hacks people off".

Tony Blair made welfare reform a top priority when he came to power in 1997.

But many of the party's more radical ideas were shelved - and have only just resurfaced now as the coalition seeks to make work pay and shake-up what it says is a system in "crisis".

Labour has said it will back some - but not all - of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith's plans to replace all existing benefits with a single, universal payment and tackle the culture of worklessness it says has taken hold in some communities.

But in an interview with the BBC's Nick Robinson, Mr Miliband admitted that Labour had not done enough to tackle worklessness.

'Squeezed middle'

He said: "There is a minority in many communities who can work and aren't doing so and we need to act on that.

"It is a minority in my view but it hacks people off and I understand why it hacks people off because they say, look, I'm working all the hours God sends, I'm working 50/60 hours a week... and I'm struggling to make ends meet and I feel the person next door isn't doing their bit."

Asked about Labour's record, Mr Miliband said: "I don't think we did enough on welfare reform. I agree."

Labour MP Frank Field, Mr Blair's welfare reform minister who was asked to "think the unthinkable", before being forced out of his role by Mr Miliband's former boss at the Treasury Gordon Brown, has been helping out with the coalition's welfare reform plans.

Mr Miliband has ordered shadow cabinet office minister Liam Byrne to carry out a full review of Labour's policies, starting with a "blank page".

But he is under pressure to demonstrate that he has a grip on the party, after returning from paternity leave.

He has vowed to stand up for the "squeezed middle" - people on low and middle incomes who were feeling the pinch of government cuts and a fragile economy.

He admitted to Nick Robinson that, as the son of a well-off academic, he had not experienced money worries himself.

"I come from a relatively privileged background. I am not going to pretend that I grew up in poverty," he said.

He added he was "not part of the squeezed middle" but he said he could "listen to and understand" voters' aspirations and "make a difference to the lives".

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