Politics

Who is Liz Kendall? Work and pensions secretary's beliefs and what she'll mean for the DWP

Here's what the new work and pensions secretary Liz Kendall has said about her plans for the DWP and benefits

Liz Kendall/ dwp secretary

Liz Kendall has been shadow minister for work and pensions since September 2023. Image: Flickr/ Keir Starmer

Liz Kendall is set to be the new work and pensions secretary and face of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as part of the new Labour government.

The decisions she makes as minister will impact 22.6 million people who claim benefits or state pension. That is one in three people in the UK relying on the DWP for financial support.

So what will Liz Kendall taking on the role of DWP boss mean for benefits claimants?

There are signs that the MP for Leicester West may take a tough stance on welfare in comparison to previous Labour governments.

When she stood against Jeremy Corbyn to become Labour leader in 2015, she was the only candidate to support some Conservative welfare cuts.

This year, as shadow secretary for work and pensions, she said that if a person can work there will be “no option for a life on benefits” under a “changed Labour party”.

Here is everything you need to know about the new DWP secretary and the changes she might bring to the benefits system. 

What has Liz Kendall said about her plans for the DWP?

Liz Kendall made her plans for the DWP most clear in the first speech she made as shadow work and pensions secretary in March.

She said one of the key reasons the Tories have failed on the economy is because “they have failed on work” – with the number of people out of work due to long-term sickness at an all time high of 2.8 million.

Kendall claimed that over the last 14 years, the “overwhelming focus” of the DWP has been on benefits and the creation of universal credit. But under Labour, she claimed, the focus would be on getting people into work.

The party’s ‘back to work plan’ includes driving down NHS waiting lists, overhauling Jobcentres to end a “tick box culture” and devolving employment support to local areas. 

It also wants to improve the quality of work and “make work pay” – which has become a bit of a Labour slogan this general election campaign. Kendall has said the only way to win back trust is to be cautious with public finances.

“Under our changed Labour party, if you can work there will be no option of a life on benefits,” Liz Kendall said. “Not just because the British people believe rights should go hand in hand with responsibilities.

“But because being unemployed or lacking basic qualifications when you’re young can harm your job prospects and wages for the rest of your life. This isn’t good enough for young people or for our country.”

In her speech, Kendall was especially focused on getting young people – of whom one in eight are not in education, employment or training – into work. She said there would be specialist employment support, new career advisors and work experience, proper mental health support early on, and real opportunities for young disabled people.

She also teased back-to-work plans for the over 50s, “mostly women, struggling with bad hips, knees and joints; often caring for elderly parents at the same time”, although this was not detailed in the Labour manifesto.

Kendall has also pledged to investigate the carer’s allowance scandal, according to The Guardian. She said unpaid carers being left with debt and threatened with prosecution is “unforgivable”.



What is Liz Kendall’s record on welfare, benefits and pensions?

Liz Kendall has generally voted in line with Labour when it comes to welfare and benefits. 

She has voted for raising benefits in line with prices, against a reduction in spending on welfare benefits, and for paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability – according to TheyWorkForYou which tracks MPs’ voting records. She has also voted against increasing the state pension age. But most of these votes took place a decade ago, at least.

Kendall was the only 2015 leadership candidate to back acting leader Harriet Harman after she said she would not oppose some Tory welfare cuts, including a reduced benefit cap and cuts to tax credits.

“I think many parents who are not on tax credits have to make difficult decisions about how many kids they can have and how many kids they can afford,” she said.

Kendall said in The Mail on Sunday in 2015 that Ed Miliband was to blame for the loss of the previous election, at least in part because he focused too much on the poorest families. 

“We said a lot about the very poor, but too little about the middle classes,” she said. “We have to help both.”

What is Liz Kendall’s background?

After she graduated from Cambridge University, Liz Kendall was a researcher at the IPPR, famous for being Tony Blair’s favourite think tank. Most of her work revolved around child development and early years education.

In 1996, she became a political advisor to Harriet Harman, then shadow minister for social security. Harman was appointed secretary of state for social security after Labour’s 1997 landslide victory but she was sacked shortly after – and Kendall went back into charity work and research.

She continued research at the IPPR and at the King’s Fund on the public health programme focusing on tackling local health inequalities. She has also been the director of the Ambulance Service Network and the Maternity Alliance and says she has spent her “life trying to help make our society fairer and our public services better”. 

Kendall was unsuccessful in attempting to become the Labour candidate for Chesterfield in 2001, after Tony Benn retired. She later returned to government as an advisor for Patricia Hewitt, in the Department for Trade and Industry and then the Department for Health. 

During the 2010 general election, Kendall was elected to parliament as MP for Leicester West. She was a shadow junior health minister under Ed Miliband and then shadow minister of care and older people.

She stood to be Labour leader after Miliband resigned in 2015, campaigning for a real living wage and the end to the exploitation of pay workers. But she ultimately finished fourth with just 4.5% of the vote. 

She resigned from the shadow cabinet following the election of Corbyn and supported Owen Smith in the failed attempt to replace him in 2016.

Keir Starmer reappointed Kendall to the frontbench when he was elected Labour leader in 2020. In 2022, she took a temporary break from her parliamentary duties for maternity leave, after becoming the first serving MP to have a child through surrogacy.

She was appointed shadow secretary for work and pensions in September 2023.

Kendall did not respond to the Big Issue’s request for comment.

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