UK Politics

Labour conference: MMR benefit link 'interesting' but not policy

MMR vaccine being administered
Image caption Experts have warned that a generation of children have not been vaccinated against measles

Taking child benefit away from parents whose children are not given the MMR vaccine is an "interesting idea", Labour's policy chief has said, while stressing it is not being considered.

Media reports suggesting the party was exploring making the universal benefit dependent on the jab have been denied.

Jon Cruddas, the MP drawing up plans for its 2015 manifesto, said he had no idea where the idea had come from.

"There are loads of ideas mentioned but it's not part of our policy," he said.

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has dismissed the idea out of hand, saying that making state assistance dependent on parental choice on vaccinations would be "punitive".

'Punishing parents'

Experts believe there are more than one million schoolchildren in England not protected against measles after research a decade ago linking the MMR (mumps, measles and rubella) vaccine with autism caused vaccination rates to plummet.

The research has since been discredited.

Earlier this year, the government launched a £20m campaign to encourage parents to get their children inoculated following a measles epidemic in Swansea, which saw more than 1,000 people infected.

Several newspapers suggested that Labour was considering making MMR take-up a condition of receiving child benefit as a way of asserting a clear link between welfare and behavioural choices.

But speaking at the party's conference in Brighton, Mr Cruddas - who has been heading the party's policy review since 2012 - said it was not part of Labour's thinking.

"There are loads of ideas that are mentioned. It was put to me and I said, 'Well, that's quite an interesting idea,' but it is not part of our policy.

"My job is the policy review in the party and this isn't part of it so I can't say anything more."

Asked about the issue, Mr Balls said he had had his children injected because he believed it was "the best way to keep them safe" but talk of any link between the vaccine and child benefit was untrue.

"There is no question of a Labour government ever taking child benefit away or punishing parents for choices they make on vaccinations.

"We would never say child benefit is conditional on taking a jab."

In Australia, payments of certain family benefits have been conditional on up-to-date immunisations for the past year although people were able to opt out as "conscientious objectors".