Politics

Key takeaways from Labour's manifesto pledges for work, benefits and disability rights

Labour's 2024 manifesto is out. Here’s what we know so far about the party's plans for employment, disability and benefits

Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner on the first day of the general election campaign

Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner. Image: Keir Starmer/Flickr

Launching the Labour Party’s manifesto, leader Keir Starmer stood in front of a poster emblazoned with the word ‘change’.

Disability and worker’s rights campaigners are calling for a little bit more detail about what this change will entail.

The manifesto stresses the need to get people “back into work” and “make work pay” – but the roadmap to get there hasn’t been fully fleshed out.

Labour need to be “clearer on the future”, said Dan White from Disability Rights UK. “This manifesto is written to reassure, not to reveal too much, which is a shame,” he added.

Here’s what we know so far about Labour’s plans for employment, disability and benefits.

Vague reforms to universal credit

“Labour is committed to reviewing universal credit so that it makes work pay and tackles poverty,” the manifesto reads.

It is not clear what these modifications will entail – but the wording hints at new eligibility and conditionality rules.

“Our system will be underpinned by rights and responsibilities – people who can work, should work – and there will be consequences for those who do not fulfil their obligations,” the 125-page document continues.

In May, Labour’s Alison McGovern said that that fixing the welfare system would need “big changes” – including “changes to PIP (personal independence payments).” Labour has deferred a decision on PIP payments until after the election.

White said that the system needs a “drastic overhaul and a sharp injection of empathy and humanity”.

“A commitment to discuss disability benefits and carers related debt would have been welcomed as well as a commitment to the UNCRPD which would have secured rights for disabled people,” he said.

“We currently have the lowest benefits in Europe and disabled people are looking for a political party in this election that dares to care, that dares to understand how we live and what we need, rather than look to continue to remove what little financial support we have.”

The Conservative Party recently announced plans to eradicate a so-called “sick-note culture” and push benefit claimants with health conditions into employment. Advocates hope Labour reforms would be more compassionate – but there is little detail yet.

And the party’s failure to scrap the two-child benefit limit has drawn despair from campaigners.

“There needs to be some real ambition on family incomes and real change won’t come for the four million children in poverty until the two-child limit and benefit cap are scrapped and the rate of child benefit is increased,” said Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group.

Reformed Access to Work scheme

Labour would reform the Access to Work scheme, pledging to tackle the backlog to claims and “create plans to support more disabled people and those with health conditions into work”.

This is a positive step. The proportion of working-age disabled people in employment is 28% fewer than the proportion of non-disabled people in employment, a chasm Citizens Advice attributes to “patchy employment support”.

“Despite the barriers and challenges faced, many disabled people want to work: 22% of economically inactive disabled people want to find a job, compared to 15% of non-disabled people,” the charity said.

Under Labour’s manifesto commitments, disabled people would not be subject to an “immediate benefit reassessment” if [their new job] “does not work out”.

“We believe the work capability assessment is not working and needs to be reformed or replaced, alongside a proper plan to support disabled people to work,” the report continues.

James Taylor, director of strategy at disability equality charity Scope, welcomed these commitments, but said they must be “backed up with action”.

“Commitments to improve the back to work test and Access to Work are welcome, but we’ve been here before. Reforms have often been code for cuts and sanctions – and we need to see genuine change,” he said.

“We want the next government to tackle the extra costs of disability. To transform attitudes to disability. To ensure that those of us who want to work can do so. To fix the broken benefits system… every political party must commit to creating an equal future.”

Disability pay-gap reporting

Labour will introduce the “full right to equal pay for disabled people”. The disability pay gap is currently around 14.6%.

“Building on gender pay gap reporting, we will introduce disability and ethnicity pay gap reporting for large employers,” the manifesto reads.

White described this policy as one of the few “surprises” in the Labour manifesto.

Guaranteed access to training for young people

One in eight young people are not in education, employment or training, with those lacking good qualifications and with poor mental health facing particular disadvantages.

“Drawing together existing funding and entitlements, Labour will establish a youth guarantee of access to training, an apprenticeship, or support to find work for all 18- to 21-year-olds, to bring down the number of young people who are not learning or earning.”

The Social Market Foundation welcomed these commitments, but called for further information.

“It is promising to see greater political attention given to Further Education, apprenticeships and adult retraining, but whilst the destination is clear – to have a world-class skills system – Labour seem intent on keeping the map to themselves,” said Dani Payne, senior researcher at SMF.

“For a party so significantly ahead in the polls, the lack of policy commitments to really get excited about is disappointing. But if that means the plans still aren’t set, they should consider opening up student maintenance funding to further education pupils, as part of their integration of further and higher education.”

Workers’ rights overhaul

Starmer has long pledged to overhaul workers’ rights if his party gets into power, announcing his “new deal for working people” way back in 2022.

Labour’s manifesto commitments include “banning exploitative zero-hours contracts; ending fire and rehire; and introducing basic rights from day one to parental leave, sick pay, and protection from unfair dismissal”.

Unions are broadly on board with the changes, though some have warned that commitments have been diluted. Zero-hours contracts, for example, will not be banned altogether: workers will be able to stay on zero-hours agreements if they choose to. Unite general secretary Sharon Graham “watered down to almost nothing”.

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Minimum wage increases – particularly in social care

“Labour will also make sure the minimum wage is a genuine living wage,” Starmer pledged today.

In government, the party would change the remit of the independent Low Pay Commission so that it accounts for cost of living. They would also remove the discriminatory age bands, so all adults would be entitled to the same minimum wage.

Labour have also promised an increased minimum wage in the social care sector. Every care worker in England would be entitled to pay of at least £12 an hour, the manifesto says, part of a drive to improve recruitment in social care and ease the burden on the NHS.

This solution is welcome – but no silver bullet, said Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK.

“If Labour forms the next government, incoming ministers will be under huge pressure to act fast to put flesh on the bones of the ‘plan for a plan’ so far outlined and in bringing forward a Fair Pay Agreement for care workers – an initiative which is important and welcome, but that is also their only concrete proposal for driving improvement in the short term,” she said.

“It has taken years for social care to be degraded into the rickety system we have today and everyone accepts there is no magic solution for turning it around, but patience is wearing thin, having been stretched to breaking point by multiple delays and false starts when it comes to reform.”

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